As much as we try, most consumers don't have the time or money for "the perfect gift." Western consumerism at a titanic scale, the Christmas season is a "make-or-break it" situation for retail merchants of all types.
Most consumers, both urban and suburban, tend to flock to malls and big box stores. They make sense: everything is under one roof, no need to spend a lot of time outdoors in inclement weather, and they literally have everything.
However, there are always gifts you may forget to buy in addition to paying bills, going to work, and attending holiday parties. Interested in circling around the mall parking lot, bumping into harried shoppers, waiting in line to check out, and sitting in long lines at eternal stoplights to get out of the mall?
If you said "yes," you're a masochist and/or have too much spare time. Luckily, for those who said "no," another option exists: independent, local stores.
Yes, the day of individual retail stores situated along a main road hasn't totally vanished, especially within Chicago's Northwest side. Here are a few options for high-quality gifts with great, unhurried customer service:
1. Rico Music
Found on the south side of Irving Park Rd., just west of the infamous Six Corners intersection is a fine purveyor or musical instruments and their associated accessories. Guitars of impeccable quality abound for those interested in purchasing a new one, and the extremely knowledgeable owner will guide you in buying various accessories he carries for the accomplished musician.
2. Hats Plus Ltd.
Located on the north side of Irving Park Rd., adjacent to the Sears on the east side of Six Corners, is one of the last of a dying breed: a real hat store. Is there a gentleman in your life who'd appreciate a fine Panama hat, or a new Kangol driving cap? Hats Plus truly has every type of every hat, in a myriad of colors and sizes. Stay out of Macy's and give these guys a try.
Everyone can benefit from a heavy-duty pair of gloves, and you probably know someone who could utilize clothes to actually go to work in. This is not just wearing a flimsy Banana Republic coat to the office, but an actual coat that doesn't fall apart in the washing machine and keeps someone toasty while laboring in sub-zero temperatures. Found on the 3900 block of N. Cicero Ave., this little shop carries the best of work-wear, without the hassle of running around the mall to find out a store is out of the size you need.
4. Rudy's Cyclery
Bicycling is something that has been growing in popularity in recent years, and Christmas has traditionally been a healthy time for bicycle retailers. There are plenty of bike shops in Chicago, but few have a wide-ranging selection of bicycle models like at Rudy's. Found on Irving Park Rd by Major Ave., near Portage Park, Rudy's has been in business for decades and has bikes and accessories for every taste. They're incredibly friendly, and won't push you into buying a $5,000 racing bike.
5. Capone's Liquors
For some, booze is a sign that the giver doesn't care about his/her subject, or fails at giving gifts in general. However, there are quite a few who appreciate a good beer or spirit, and Capone's excels at this. Located off the beaten path at Elston and Christiana Aves., Capone's may not look like a place that specializes in craft beers, but it and its owner surely do. Microbrews and independent brewers abound here. Though it’s not the cheapest liquor purveyor in the city, a gift of the right beer from Capone's won't come across as last-minute or impersonal.
If you aren't up for battling the mall parking lot, and would prefer to help the local economy and independent merchants this holiday season, these local options are just some of many that are worth a try.