Gone Mild Shopping Guide

Alright, I feel like I can post this now. It’s the morning of Black Friday, and all the crazies are off to the malls or to big box retailers, standing in line and saving dollars. Good for them, and more power to them – if saving a few dollars to put into your gas tank so you can idle in JoCo traffic is your goal, then you know what you’re doing and don’t need my advice.

Those people are off shopping. It’s just us right now, so let’s talk about Holiday shopping. ‘Tis the season and all that, but you don’t want to lose your soul to Johnson County, and you prefer to buy local, right? What’s a shopper to do?

I’m here to help, with a few suggestions to spark your thought process. Now, unlike several other areas of human knowledge, like politics, beer and poetry, I am NOT Kansas City’s most informed person on the retail business, so I beg my more informed readers to offer their suggestions, amplifications and corrections in the comments. I’ll copy and paste the ones I think sound wonderful to the front page as updates.

So here goes:

Clothing

The days of Kansas City’s garment industry have largely passed, but there are a few places where you can get cool things you really ought to consider giving as gifts. First, there’s Ideal Garment and Scientific Panty, housed in a firehouse at 4518 Troost. Susan Wiegand, the proprietess, is simply one of the coolest people you’ll ever meet, and she insists that her clothing be comfortable first, stylish first and well made first. If that doesn’t make sense to you, you need to relax and visit Susan, and you’ll get it. Even Republicans like her, and it does them a lot of good.

If you’re really, really into recycling, then hit a thrift store for the ultimate in reducing waste. The best of the lot is the Maj-R Thrift group of stores, but just about any thrift store will present you with bargain opportunities and rare finds. If the person you’re shopping for is too snobby to accept used clothing, then a gift of used clothing may be exactly what they need to begin the process of rethinking who they are and what kind of person they’ve become. You’ll be giving enlightenment as well as a cool gift, and that, my friends, could be the best Christmas offering ever.

For the younger set, I have to recommend Gen-X at 31st and Prospect. For the rest of us, check out the discount racks at Sutherland’s hardware. Nobody has actually said so, but I’m pretty sure I look fantastic in my $12.99 Dickies blue jeans.

Kitchen Stuff

Pryde’s Old Westport has the best of everything. A decade or so ago, I spent $40 on a Peugot pepper grinder, and it may be the best investment I’ve ever made. Pryde’s is not a bargain-hunter’s paradise, though they do have deals from time to time, but it is a cool place to shop, and a Kansas City tradition. If you’ve never been there, why not?

If you want a tortilla press or a big earthenware pot or the best kind of mortar and pestle to make guacamole with, go to the shop that is a couple doors west of La Fonda el Tacquito on Southwest Boulevard. The place is awesome, and they have all kinds of cool canned and jarred stuff.

In a similar vein, visit the Chinese Supermarket just north of River Market. While the enclosed fish market gives it a bit of an odor, the place is chock-full of bizarre ingredients. They also have a stock of plates and pots and stuff over in the northeast corner of the store. Maybe I’m a bit unusual in that I think a can of some weird vegetable or fish is an appropriate Christmas gift, but it’s one way to delight someone adventuresome on your list.

Books

Spivey’s is an amazing used bookstore on the same block as the Westport Flea Market. Block out at least an hour so you can sit down and page through some of the old art books, or read a poem, or even just pet one of the massive dogs. And don’t forget to flip through their old Kansas City photos, or the incredible old maps. Spivey’s is three floors of heaven for book lovers.

If you want the latest best seller, though, go to Rainy Day Books (yes, it’s in Johnson County). They’re doing their level best to keep our town’s literary scene alive, and they need and deserve our support. Really, it is much better to buy from Rainy Day than it is to buy from Borders or Barnes & Noble. Do the right thing!

Jewelry

As my ever-patient wife can attest, this is not an area of experience for me. I did see the coolest 816 earrings at Gen-X at 31st and Prospect, though.

Electronics

Does anyone have any suggestions where one can support local stores but still buy electronics? I tend to buy from Costco when I am in this market, because they at least support the urban core by locating in Midtown and hiring locals.

General Merchandise for Loved Ones

THE BEST IS SAVED FOR LAST. The single best Christmas shopping place in Kansas City for finding gifts for loved ones is the River Market Antique Mall. Just up the hill to the west of River Market on 5th Street, you can find everything from used postcards (a personal favorite – who can resist reading those messages and seeing old stamps and cancellations from distant places?) to nice furniture (our buffet was an $80 bargain there, with fine wood hidden beneath ugly red paint), and all kinds of quirky stuff in between.

Now, it takes a shift in mindset to shop for a loved one in the River Market Antique Mall, and it only works for loved ones. It’s a far deeper experience than shopping at Oak Park Mall. You disengage your brain and what you know about the person you’re shopping for. Forget what size they wear or what CD they mentioned. Put all that out of your mind. Then, once you’re past all that, open your heart and understand what you love about the person. What makes the two of you gasp and smile together? What cracks him or her up? What kinds of things are cool to your loved ones?

This won’t work for perfunctory shopping. You can’t buy a gift like this for the cousin you haven’t seen in a decade or a coworker you don’t hang out with. They will open it and be befuddled – “Oh, an old suitcase . . . interesting . . . umm, yeah . . . I can use it to store my video games . . .”. No, that’s just awkward. Only give a used suitcase to someone who you know will say, with genuine enthusiasm, “Wow, that is awesome! I wonder who used to have this, and where they went?! This will look so cool in my bedroom!” How can you know they will say that? Well, you just kind of have to know that. The same thing goes for an old record player, or an antique bird cage, or a used Scrabble set.

I guess that’s the whole thing. If you don’t love someone enough to know that giving them a can of brined shrimp or a jar of mole’ or a pair of 816 earrings or a well-worn book of Dickinson’s poetry is exactly the right thing to given them, then just give them a Plaza Gift Bond. One size fits all, and your tax dollars will stay in Missouri. And promise yourself that you’ll try to get to know them better over the coming year.

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