Still shopping for that tasteful host or hostess gift, stocking stuffers or some other perfect item to put under the tree?
Worry no more.
We asked a few Clark County retailers to tip us off on the season's top gift ideas, based on what their customers ask about and what they've bought so far in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
For the retail industry, this is a year of modest expectations. The National Retail Federation predicts holiday sales will increase by just 3.9 percent over 2012 sales and that the average consumer will spend $738 on gifts, decor and greeting cards this year, down from the $752 they spent last year.
But Clark County merchants say they are already noticing busier store traffic this holiday season than in 2012. With the economy still shaky, it's hard to predict whether local consumers will spend cautiously through the holiday season or put a bit more cash into gift-giving. Area retailers hope for more spending, of course, and they'd like to beat last year's sales with these "must haves" of the season.
Washington State University Vancouver: 14204 N.E. Salmon Creek Ave., Vancouver.
Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday.
What’s hot: WSU sweatshirts and anything else in team crimson and gray, says Jeff Ehli, manager of WSU Vancouver’s campus bookstore, The Bookie. He believes brisk sweatshirt sales this year have been influenced by WSU’s scrappy (6-6) Cougars football team.
“When the Cougars are doing better, we definitely sell more sweatshirts,” Ehli said.
The team landed its first bowl game in a decade and will take on Colorado State in the Dec. 21 New Mexico Bowl. It will no doubt generate higher demand for WSU colors. The sweatshirts are priced from $33 to $55 and come in crewneck, zip-up and hooded styles. WSU Vancouver’s bookstore is located downstairs in the Student Affairs Building (the only campus building marked by an American flag). There’s also metered parking spaces, with the first 30 minutes free in the lot just under the flag.
Ehli says Cougs fans can show their devotion with a host of other store merchandise as well, from logo-emblazoned cellphone covers to footballs, coffee mugs, car flags, bumper stickers and license plate frames.
National bookseller Barnes & Noble has a contract to operate the campus bookstore, and 10 percent of all local sales go to support the Vancouver campus.
“It’s the best selection of Cougs merchandise in town,” Ehli said.
A Vintage Gathering
100 E. Main St., Battle Ground.
Hours: 10:30-ish to 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday.
What’s hot: Fudge and other individually wrapped sweets and delicacies made by local confectioners, such as the Vancouver-based Joseph Group and Battle Ground chocolatiers Whimsy Chocolates and Barking Good Stuff.
“A lot of people are buying these as stocking stuffers,” said Lori Harris, owner of the shop that sells eclectic vintage and traditional home décor and gifts.
Harris works to sell store items for a diverse group of about 21 antique dealers. The store’s vintage merchandise fits a variety of home decor classifications. They include primitive items, which are kept in a natural state; shabby chic distressed furnishings; and Victorian vintage lace doilies and ornate wall art.
A Vintage Gathering also carries gifts made by home-based businesses, such as Western Dream Designs. The one-woman, stay-at-home-mom business produces long-burning soy candles and warmers in a variety of scents that are also best sellers with A Vintage Gathering’s clientele, Harris said.
“The candles burn for up to 118 hours,” she said. “They make a great housewarming or hostess gift.”
Dice Age Games
5107 E. Fourth Plain Blvd., Suite 105, Vancouver.
Hours: noon to 9 p.m. Monday-Thursday; noon to 11 p.m. Friday-Saturday; noon to 4 p.m. Sunday.
What’s hot: Board games with names such as Catan, Castle Raven Loft and Firefly, which is based on a popular television series. Dice Age Games carries traditional board games and tabletop fantasy games with the collectable miniatures and hobby paints that go with them.
Some of the store’s most popular sellers are the European-style fantasy games that allow players to “make their own choices,” says Roy Starkweather, owner and operator of Dice Age Games. American-style games, according to Starkweather, are more typically based on money and conflict, where decision-making is replaced by a roll of the dice.
“With European games, victory comes through timing and decisions,” he said.
Part of Starkweather’s business plan involves providing fun for his customers with evening and weekend gaming, which occurs on long rows of tables that take up the center of the store. Players come in, sit down and play board games, cards and tabletop miniatures games, including the legendary Dungeons & Dragons, which Starkweather calls “D&D.”
Starkweather says the gaming sessions and tournaments give players a chance to try different games, such as Warhammer 40,000, a tabletop miniature war game.
“It takes place 38,000 years in the future,” Starkweather said. “At a time when humanity has expanded outside the galaxy.”
10108 N.E. Highway 99, Vancouver.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Friday; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday.
What’s hot: Strider-style bikes for tots. These lightweight bicycles help children as young as 18 months learn the fundamentals of balancing and steering, without the distraction of pedals or training wheels.
Children from 1 to 5 love the bikes because they have no cranks or pedals, according to Mike Sheldon, store manager of Vancouver Cyclery. The store carries the 10-inch and 12-inch models made by Haro and Trek, he said. Prices range from $110 to $140 and they come in an array of colors and two-tone shades.
“We have a huge selection right now,” Sheldon said.
He added that, for kids, the tiny bicycles make the transition to a regular bike much smoother than the traditional bike with training wheels.
“Training wheels can make the bike top heavy,” Sheldon said. “And they (children) get used to them (training wheels) and then it becomes a band aid.”
Sheldon, who is the father of a 20-month-old and a newborn, added that any small child would be delighted to find a strider bike under the tree on Christmas morning. He said his toddler-age daughter is already riding the shop’s strider bikes with ease.
“Any kid that age would love to get one of these,” Sheldon said.
339 N.E. Fourth Ave., Camas.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Friday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday; noon to 4 p.m. Sunday.
What’s hot: Owl-inspired Christmas tree ornaments, resurrecting a mid-century trend that’s again taking America by storm, said Beth Forsythe, the shop’s owner. “The owls have been really popular this year,” she said.
Her store’s top-selling gift is a cookbook called “Gathering of Friends: A Year of Holidays at Home” by Michelle Huxtable. The hardcover collection of holiday recipes retails for $32.50 and makes a great addition to any cookbook library, said Forsythe, who is this year celebrating the ninth holiday season of business for her downtown Camas boutique. It is part of the tree-lined city center’s destination assemblage of boutiques, vintage shops and restaurants.
Lizzabeth A carries a wide selection of Christmas ornaments and home decor, from artwork to serving platters, embroidered tea towels, sterling silver utensils and pewter coaster sets and olive vessels. In addition to home decor items, Lizzabeth A also features personal gift items, such as artisan jewelry, soaps, lotions, candles and women’s scarves and hats.
“We sell tons of jewelry and scarves this time of year,” Forsythe said.
For gourmet chocolate lovers, her store also stocks Moonstruck Chocolates made by the Portland-based chocolatier.
“It’s one of those things anyone can appreciate,” Forsythe said.
Bader Beer and Wine Supply
711 Grand Blvd., Vancouver.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Friday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.
What’s hot: Home beer-brewing, wine-making and whiskey-making equipment.
“People are always drinking something,” said Steve Bader, who founded the beer side of Bader Beer & Wine Supply in 1992 and later added wine-making supplies.
The shop caters to the do-it-yourself brewing crowd, selling equipment and ingredients for making beer and wine at home. It now offers equipment for budding distillers, although it is illegal in the United States to distill spirits. For example, Bader Beer & Wine Supply sells the Turbo 500, which is often used as a still to make gin, white rum and vodka.
The store’s display advertises the Turbo 500 as a water purifier and essential oil extractor.
“There are lots of other uses for it,” Bader said.
Bader Beer & Wine Supply also offers packages for budding beer- and wine-makers that come with the starter equipment and one class. For example, the store’s starter beer-making kit sells for $110 and comes with a free lesson offered in December or January.
Likewise, beginning wine-makers can get started with a $100 kit and a free class to help those who dream of trying out the hobby.
Bader Beer & Wine also sells malted barley and hops, along with wine-making kits and all sorts of accessories.
Bader said his store’s business continued to improve through the economic downturn as more people turned to home brewing as a cost effective alternative to buying alcohol. He said beer has made a comeback in popularity these days, especially the “craft brews,” so named because they are made in small batches.
Wines and wine-making had been gaining in popularity until about 2005 or 2006, Bader said, explaining that beer and wine typically trade off in popularity in a cyclical fashion.
“When I first started, beer was king,” Bader said. “Now, beer is back.”