For better or for worse, this year’s holiday season is going to look a little different than it has in years past. Gatherings will likely be smaller and closer to home than usual for some of us, but there is no limit to the amount of joy we can all find in the age-old tradition of exchanging gifts with loved ones near and far (Marie Kondo and minimalism are so 2019). And despite the reminders that brown paper packages tied up with string are not technically the reason for the season, the fact remains (and multiple studies show) that giving personalized gifts to the people we love most to show them we care has a reciprocal effect, amplifying joy in both giver and recipient. When you buy those gifts from artisans and small businesses, especially in a year where many have faced nigh insurmountable obstacles to success, that joy spreads exponentially throughout the community.
But how do you pick the perfect presents for your nearest and dearest when your shopping options are not exactly myriad or varied? T-shirt shops (with the ubiquitous “EVERYTHING $5!!!!” signs in the windows), stores hawking lotions and potions of dubious efficacy and all manner of trinket and tchotchke peddlers crowd Duval Street, luring unwitting purchasers into emptying their wallets for mass-produced junk. But even though on its surface Key West appears to be a retail desert, there is a vibrant local marketplace overflowing with gift ideas for everyone from the budget-conscious to the outlandish spender.
From local artisans crafting one-of-a-kind objets d’art to fine wines and apparel, Key West has done well to transcend its reputation for all things cheap and tacky. The pressure of giving that unicorn gift is real and the quest to find presents for friends and family that feel authentic and original can feel, at times, more overwhelming than charitable, but a new generation of shops run by an influx of entrepreneurs who appreciate the distinctive offerings of the Florida Keys has rendered the usual stress of holiday gift-giving virtually nonexistent. Of course, you can always just give a gift card or cash, but we know you’re more creative than that.
If you’re having trouble deciding what to get a particularly hard-to-shop-for friend or family member, read on for a few outside-the-box suggestions.
For the ‘shop local’ enthusiast
In a dramatic response to the proliferation of bargain-basement big box stores and the convenience of Amazon, the gift-givers of today are increasingly interested in bespoke items that reflect a more creative and thoughtful approach to giving. If that description fits your charitable philosophy, there are a handful of boutiques in Key West that will satisfy.
Sacred Space (5700 4th St., Stock Island), the newest artisanal emporium on the block, can actually be found on Stock Island, just a short bridge away from Key West. The artist collective functions as an interactive studio space for four female-led brands: Bella Laine Candles, Whimsy Key West, Lucy Hawk Art and Cocky Key West. In addition, the studio hosts artwork created by five other female artists local to the Florida Keys. Pick up hand-poured candles, colorful Blue Tide Drift wall hangings, painstakingly hand-cut Lucy Hawk paper artworks and more unique items for your artsy-fartsy friends (and maybe a thing or two for your own sacred space, too).
Back on the island, boutique-slash-gallery SALT Island Provisions (830 Fleming St.) features locally harvested sea salt and honey, as well as fine art, Florida Keys salt scrub, jewelry, pottery, candles and other unique crafts made by local artisans. The gallery also makes gorgeous gift baskets you can fill with your own choice of goods, so you don’t show up completely empty-handed to Christmas dinner.
If it’s shiny things you’re after, you’ll have a hard time finding sparklers more splendid than Gilded Peach Inspired Jewelry, sold at both the Green Pineapple (310 Petronia St.) and The Madda Fella Store (0 Duval St.). Each stunning piece of Gilded Peach jewelry is handmade by local jeweler Abigail Houff and her pieces range from simple solitaire pendants to multi-stone briolette necklaces that explode with color. Houff’s one-of-a-kind pieces can also be purchased online at www.gildedpeach.com.
Shiny things also are the name of the game at Key West Local Luxe, Barb Grob’s treasure trove of baubles at 515 Fleming St. Local Luxe features the Florida Keys’ largest selection of pearls and exotic, one-of-a-kind, rare find jewelry. Grob is also a pro at personal shopping, so you can give her a general idea of what that special lady in your life might like and she’ll find the perfect item for the occasion.
For those of you who are “I’ll know it when I see it” types (I sympathize), the gifting gods will hopefully smile upon you at the Key West Artisan Market Black Friday Shopping Extravaganza at Truman Waterfront on Nov. 27. The market will feature a wide variety of artisans selling all manner of unique items, so it’ll be impossible to walk away empty-handed.
For your favorite drinking buddies
Whether you’re looking for a hostess gift for a holiday soiree or you want to guarantee gifting success, booze is (almost always) the answer. Step into Mark Gambuzza’s accessible, sun-soaked wine shop, Uva (519 Fleming St.), and you’ll usually find the proprietor himself behind the bar, his inked-up arms and flowing locks making him appear as though he wandered into the wrong bar on the way to CBGB. But beneath the tough-guy exterior lies unparalleled knowledge of wine and a desire to share it.
The first thing you’ll notice about Mark is that, when asked to recommend a bottle to purchase, he’ll tell you straight away which expensive bottles he feels are simply not worth the money — not unless you happen to possess a palate so refined as to make the undertone of pickled prunes noticeable. In Mark’s opinion, there’s a bottle of wine for every consumer at every price point.
If you happen to be one of those people for whom $400 bottles of wine are a no-brainer, fear not: Uva’s got you covered at the upper price points as well. And if you’re having a total breakdown over what wines to pair with your all-over-the-place holiday spread, Mark will be your neighborhood Martha Stewart. He has plenty of recommendations for versatile reds, whites and rosés that will impress even your most snobbish relative.
To half-paraphrase Ogden Nash, wine may be fine but liquor is quicker and the fine folks over at Key West First Legal Rum Distillery (105 Simonton St.) would be happy to help you fulfill your gifting checklist in a flash with their chef-distilled rums. Chef Paul Menta’s award-winning rums are made on premises in Key West and aged in salt-cured barrels using locally and naturally sourced flavors, like Key lime, coconut and Florida demerara sugar. With 10 varieties of high-quality rum to choose from, you’ll be able to please even the most discerning mojito lover in your life.
For the environmental warrior
If you’re looking to minimize your environmental impact this holiday season, eco-friendly gifting options are plentiful in our island oasis. Start your sustainable shopping spree at Amri (1204 Simonton St.), an ethical day spa, salon and boutique inspired by the zero-waste lifestyle. In the boutique, you’ll find locally made jewelry, clothing made with high-quality, sustainable materials and ethically produced spa products. And if you want to treat someone to a spa or salon experience, you can rest assured that all treatments utilize certified sustainable products and that the outdoor spa area is adhering to the highest sanitation standards.
If my Instagram feed is any indication, Panama hats are back in a big way with the photo-filtering Millennial and Gen Z set and the only place in Key West to get an authentic handwoven topper is at La Rubia Key West (510 Fleming St.). Each fair trade hat is woven from toquilla palm straw and handpicked and transported to Key West from Ecuador by owner and Panama hat expert Stephanie Hellstrom. They are “eco-fashionable,” Hellstrom says, as toquilla palm straw is a rapidly renewable resource. In addition to hats, La Rubia also carries socially and environmentally sustainable jewelry, scarves and purses.
The Green Pineapple (1130 Duval St., 310 Petronia St. and inside The Perry Hotel on Stock Island) is a lifestyle boutique that features men’s and women’s apparel, handmade jewelry, accessories and more with an eco-conscious spin. From recycled jute totes to yoga leggings made from sustainably sourced post-consumer recycled plastic bottles and fishing nets, you can fill everyone’s stocking with a clear conscience. The Green Pineapple also features goods made by local artisans, including ZEN by Karen Moore and Made by Soto jewelry and eco-friendly modal art scarves by Theresa Kalvaitis.
For the homebody
There’s no doubt that we’ve all been spending a lot more time at home lately. Why not make someone’s nest even cozier with highly curated furniture and home accessories from lifestyle studio and design space Soul House (5700 4th Ave., Stock Island)? Pick up perfectly fluffed throw pillows and knitted blankets for the Netflix junkies, Moroccan poufs for the mindful meditators and ceramic mixing bowls for the Julia Child wannabes in your life. (And maybe engage Soul House owner Oakleigh Waits to makeover your own home as a gift to yourself for enduring the rollercoaster of 2020.)
For a locally sourced option, Key West Pottery’s gallery, located at 1203 Duval St., is the perfect place to pick up a handmade gift that is unique, sustainable and, above all, beautiful. “The gift of art speaks loud. It tells a story, creates a mood and is a symbol of culture passed down over decades,” say owner artist duo Kelly Lever and Adam Russell. “Pottery is a family heirloom that has witnessed family dinners, morning conversations, after-school snacks and the occasional road trip. Give a gift that will last generations, create memories and that speaks volumes.”
Locally made pottery can also be found at Shade Ceramics & Shutter Photography (1102 White St.), where husband-and-wife duo Mark Klammer and Sarah Carleton display their organic, nature-inspired ceramics and photography. The gallery space doubles as the couple’s studio, where you can watch Klammer craft his modern stoneware and terra cotta pieces while you browse for the perfect piece of functional art. Carleton’s photographs, which highlight Key West’s natural beauty, are clean and modern — perfect for a gift that makes a subtle yet powerful statement.
For the true gentleman
There are men’s stores, and then there’s Assortment, Inc., Key West’s iconic menswear boutique that has been the go-to for tastemakers and style influencers since the store’s first iteration on Front Street in 1977. After a jaunt on Duval Street, the store found its current home at 514 Fleming St., where it has remained since 1994. The vibe is decidedly old world nautical, with an emphasis on craft and heritage, not trendiness. These are heirloom clothes, clothes for true preps — the frugal sort who invest in a good pair of admittedly expensive loafers they will then wear for 15 years.
Possible gifts for the man in your life are abundant: a classic pair of cufflinks, a cheeky rubberized take on the traditional boat shoe, a linen party shirt, a buttery leather overnight bag. Perhaps most unique is a bottle of one of the store’s three in-house colognes, bottles of which have been shipped to discerning fans as far away as Egypt. Crafted by a former Estée Lauder perfumer, the scents are complex but somehow familiar, evoking memories of salt-brined sailing trips to Cape Cod that you never took, but wish you had; with every spritz, the daydream becomes clearer. Hey, it’s certainly cheaper than a sailboat.
Of course, gifts don’t always need to be things that can be held and showed off and, in fact, sometimes the best gifts are the intangibles — experiences (tickets to a show at the Key West Theater, Red Barn Theatre or Waterfront Playhouse), education (classes at the Studios of Key West), a home-cooked meal (grab a tomahawk steak from The Local and let the meat do the talking) and charitable donations to a local organization (FKSPCA, Community Foundation of the Florida Keys or the MARC House, to name a very small few) are always excellent options to either make memories with someone you love or to make a difference in their name.
And if none of the above strikes your fancy, I guess there’s always a $5 T-shirt and a light-up shot glass (in which case, I hesitate to say that something is better than nothing). Happy gifting! ¦