The weather outside is frightful, but Christmas shopping is delightful.
Oh, stop with the cynical "Ho ho ho!"
This year I’m trying an experiment — buying every single Christmas gift in a small store — and I found the perfect place to do it, with hardly any walking once you get there.
It’s the west Exchange District enclave of picturesque shops, galleries and restaurants. McDermot Avenue is its main drag.
Look, some of my friends are unique and wild (some would argue strange) so I’m looking for wild and crazy gifts.
The only problem? Parking.
"But the bus routes are so easy!" insists Kristen Andrews, owner of Ragpickers Antifashion Emporium Costumes & Books. Umpteen buses stop at the end of Main Street, a quarter of a block from all the shopping action. "You can shop and stay for lunch and hit some art galleries too," she points out. And most shops are open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
It’s worth the trip. You just can’t beat the Exchange for crazy gifts. Camera in hand, I go looking for myself and for you.
216 McDermot Ave.
Looking for something memorable and dramatic for an angel in your life? Andrews showed off a giant pair of gold wings for $35 and a naughty can-can-style crinoline in hot pink with black lace for the devil side of her. Ragpickers is a half-and-half store — they rent costumes in the back half, but in the front, they sell retro items for men and women, such as hats from every era, gloves, cigarette holders with rhinestones, old-fashioned suits and jackets, crazy sunglasses, unique jewelry, the lot! If you’re attending Christmas and New Year’s Eve parties, their retro cocktail dresses sell for $20 to $65, and sparkly costume jewelry sells for $15 to $45.
214 McDermot Ave.
Co-owner Sarah Mariano demonstrates a trendy spiked bra (take that, Madonna!) that will be the talk of any party or dance club in Winterpeg. Like the women in Sex and the City, a woman wears this bra boldly without covering it up.
"I’d put it with high-waisted pants and a black blazer," Mariano says with a grin, tying back her long hair so the black and gold will show off better. The spikes look scary — no slow dancing — but Mariano says they feel like gold-sprayed plastic, so they won’t be lethal to an amorous dance partner. The cost? $75. Reaction? Priceless!
84 Albert St.
This shop is a giant tickle trunk, front to back, full of conversation-starter gifts — including an inflatable doll called Man of the Year. The store is full of sex toys and peculiar sexual instruments, lotions and potions and lingerie in many sizes. "We specialize in larger sizes," says owner Brenda Unger, looking at me. "Up to 6X." Translation: Luxury-sized women and larger men who cross-dress can also find great outfits here.
Rhymes With Orange
223 McDermot Ave.
Described as the love child of Vintage Glory and Oh So Lovely stores, this shop is mid-century modern all the way! They have sourced everything from Mary Maxim sweaters with ducks on them to wild retro hats, clothing, jewelry and household goods from the ’50s to the ’70s. Co-owner Stefanie Hiebert takes off her towering fur hat to model a ’60s floral apron in psychedelic orange, yellow and red at only $10. She poses in front of a fully outfitted ’60s kitchen you don’t want to miss seeing, hidden in the back of the store. They also have a full shoe and boot section with a bench to sit on and a sign that reads "If the Shoe Fits!"
Imagine Games & Hobbies
246 McDermot Ave.
If the sky’s the limit budget-wise and $18,000 is feasible, this is definitely the shop for you. One of the things it is offering is a full suit of knight’s armour, hand-made with love and great dedication over a number of years by owner Pedro Bedard.
"At first it creeped me out, but now I see it as a the guard of the store at night," says assistant manager Kelsie Scott. Lots of people have been seriously interested in buying the knightly armour, Scott says. "In fact, a man from L.A. wanted to take it home, but they wouldn’t let him take it on the plane with him."
Tara Davis Studio Boutique
246 McDermot Ave.
Across the front hall in the same building, this boutique carries work by many fine and funky artists, including local artist Kelly Rey, who designs teapots and cups the Alice in Wonderland gang would covet. Rey likes to work in blues and turquoises. The teapot with the handle like a big bridge and surprisingly tiny spout is a fine example of a functional art piece at $160. You wouldn’t leave it in a cupboard — it’s a display feature!
84 Albert St.
Do you love hats? This place has everything a beautiful old-fashioned hat store could want. Lots of mirrors and a hat for every face shape, occasion and type of weather. Winter hats are necessary right now, and there are popular aviators or "bomber" hats with ear lugs. This hat is popular with all ages on your list — skaters, skiers and snowboarders, teens and college students walking to school.
"We do well with these hats because they keep you warm in the freezing cold," says owner Luke Nolan. They’re fun and, well, funny!
98 Albert St.
A totally different gift awaits at Bodegoes restaurant in the famous triangle space between Albert and Arthur Street at Bannatyne Avenue. It used to be called the Line-Up and they’ve kept the fine tradition of dinner-and-a-movie deals with gift cards for an amazing $12.83 with your choice of a movie at the Town 8, Cinematheque, the Globe or IMAX.
This is just a sampling of the stores, old and new, in the Exchange. It is pretty much guaranteed, whether you are prepared to spend $12.83 all the way up to $18,000, you will find something unique to buy here for the wild and crazy people you love so much.