Hot gifts stay local

From ukeles, unique toys, affordable wines to items for bird lovers, county retailers have something for everyone

By Cami Joner, Columbian retail & real estate reporter

Published:

 

Unwrap this year's hottest local gifts and musicians will make beachy sounds, youngsters will weave colorful bracelets and wine lovers will ring in the holiday season with bargain-priced vino.

That's what locally owned retailers predict, based on their best-selling items sold so far during this year's make-or-break holiday sales season.

The National Retail Federation expects the average holiday consumer will spend $749 on gifts, decor and greeting cards this year, up slightly from the $740 last year. The group predicts seasonal sales to rise 4.1 percent over 2011 sales. In Clark County, store-only retail sales totaled $538 million in the three months ending in December 2011, the Washington State Department of Revenue reported. It was a modest 2.7 percent increase from the county's fourth-quarter spending the previous year.

With the economy still wobbly, consumers are expected to continue a three-year trend of spending carefully throughout the holiday season, according to Florida-based consumer marketing group Valpak.

But careful doesn't have to mean dull when it comes to gift selection. The list of hot sellers from local businesses will also delight bird lovers, evoke joyous squeals from children and cater to all kinds of collectors, home decorators and gardeners.

Here are some to check out.

Beacock Music

1420 S.E. 163rd Ave., Vancouver

http://beacockmusic.com/

What's hot: Ukuleles! Made suddenly hip by the likes of singer-songwriter Jason Mraz and Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, these four-stringed instruments come in a profusion of colors and sizes. And they're selling fast, said Jake Veach, a customer service manager at Beacock's.

"We've had over 120 ukes a month coming in and they're selling like hot cakes," he said.

The soft-stringed instruments are easy to play and come priced for any budget, said Gayle Beacock, who co-owns the store.

Priced from about $30 to $1,000, ukuleles of all sizes range from standard wood-toned hues to pink, blue, kiwi-green and "ukadelic" finishes.

Not your thing? This 20,000-square-foot store is also filled with instruments -- from drum sets to brass horns -- and well stocked with sheet music and accessories.

Kazoodles Kid-Powered Toys

13503 S.E. Mill Plain Blvd., Vancouver

On the Web: http://www.kazoodlestoys.com

What's hot: The toy award-winning Loopdedoo spinning tool allows kids ages 8 and older to make the coolest friendship bracelets, anklets and necklaces. Priced at $34.99, the device is Kazoodles' hottest seller, said Mary Sisson, the shop's founder and co-owner.

"We've sold a lot of them, probably mostly for girls," she said.

For girls and boys, Magformers magnetic building sets are one of the top-selling items in the store, which is stocked with more than 2,000 toys selected for quality, educational value and fun. Wooden train sets, dolls, science kits, books and, of course, games are also popular gift items for children of all ages.

"We say from birth to 108 because one of our toys says that," Sisson said, adding that the store also offers to wrap gifts.

Rusty Grape Vineyard

16712 N.E. 219th St., Battle Ground

http://rustygrape.com/

What's hot: Recession Red wine, a Grenache Petit Sirah made with Washington-grown grapes and selling for $13.75 a bottle.

"That's pretty cheap for wine from a boutique winery," said Heather Brown, co-owner of Rusty Grape.

Labels that adorn the bargain-priced red wine feature the Rusty Grape Vineyard's familiar pin-up girl character wearing a tattered red dress and holding a cracked wine glass.

Brown said she's also selling a lot of the Riesling, an aromatic variety with flavors of pear.

Shorty's Garden & Home

10006 S.E. Mill Plain Blvd., Vancouver

http://www.shortysgardenandhome.com/

What's hot: Owls, whether in the form of Christmas ornament, statue or print, items depicting these creatures are hot sellers that go with this year's popular woodland themes for home and garden.

"People want natural stuff this year," said Matt King, a store associate at the company's Mill Plain gift shop.

The year-round nursery also sells plenty of flocked and plain evergreen trees and wreaths this time of year, both cut and living varieties.

The store's gift shop sells everything from air plants and bird houses to paper white bulbs and traditional gift items such as soap and candles.

"They make good stocking stuffers," King said.

Backyard Bird Shop

8101 N.E. Parkway Drive, Vancouver

http://www.backyardbirdshop.com/index.php/about

What's hot: Squirrel Buster brand squirrel-proof bird feeders. Priced from $29.99 to $100, depending on size, these feeders all work in the same way. When a pesky squirrel lands on the feeder, its weight automatically closes the seed ports, denying access to the seed but not harming the squirrels. That doesn't happen to hungry birds, said Sam Wendorf, an employee at the store.

"That's because it is weight sensitive and the birds weigh next to nil," she said, "A lot of people don't want to feed the squirrels. They only want to feed birds."Backyard Bird Shop was founded in Vancouver and now operates five stores in the Vancouver-Portland metro area. The stores carry food and feeders for birds and other wildlife, along with yard accessories, books and other gift items.

One World Merchants

2315 Main St., Vancouver

http://www.facebook.com/pages/One-World-Merchants/183473257490

What's hot: Handcrafted jewelry from around the world. Take your pick from displays in four counter cases filled with handcrafted sterling silver, antique and ethnic jewelry pieces.

"It's all very popular," said Elizabeth Halili, who co-owns the downtown store of eclectic and cultural gift items. The shop follows strict buying practices of only buying from the originating country and paying a price that provides a livable wage.

Jewelry and other gift items in the store are made by people who control their working conditions and pool their resources together, Halili said.

"Basically, they're not enslaved or working in a giant factory," she said.

Vintage Books

6613 E. Mill Plain Blvd., Vancouver

http://www.vintage-books.com/?page=shop/disp&pid=page_local

What's hot: Really old books with copyrights from 1840 to 1920. These are popular among collectors or as home decor items, said store owner Becky Milner, who founded Vintage Books in 1975. The one-of-a-kind items are priced between $10 and $200.

"We almost can't get them out on the floor fast enough," she said.

Bound in man-made and leather covers with the handwritten names of long-ago owners just inside, some of the old books sport gilt lettering; others are a bit marred by age spots and worn patches. They include titles such as Frank Leslie's "Chatterbox," "Old School Day Romances" by James Whitcomb Riley and the "Little Patience Picture Book."

Old Bibles and biographical material are popular, too, said Milner, whose store also carries much newer material in nonfiction, fiction and children's books. Vintage Books also takes some books in for trade.