As Pittsburghers dust off their menorahs, ready frying pans and brace for eight days of avoiding unintended barefoot steps on misplaced dreidels, local vendors are likewise preparing.
Across the city, shop owners are gearing up for cost-conscious customers in search of meaningful gifts. While online sales hit $9 billion on Black Friday — a record amount that was 2.3% higher than last year’s total, according to Investopedia — local merchants are hoping patrons swap their digital devices for an old-fashioned trip to the store.
In a season of tradition, adopting a purposefully anachronistic approach may be the most fashionable thing this Chanukah.
Chocolate and candy: So obvious, so sweet, so why not?
Inside The Chocolate Moose are scores of beautifully wrapped sugary delights. Whether prospective purchasers are craving a particularly flavored jelly bean or one of countless decadent truffles, the Forbes Avenue store has customers covered.
Meira Gumerman, the owner of The Chocolate Moose, suggested dozens of items guaranteed to bring a taste of seasonal joy.
Whether it’s gummy sushi, little plastic toilets with sour candies inside or mini chocolates shaped like bottles, “giving and receiving sweets always makes people smile,” Gumerman said.
Clever Pez dispensers can elicit chuckles, and chocolate-covered pretzels are always coveted, but what does one get for that super-sophisticated friend or delightful relative who enjoys nothing more than talking about their next trip abroad?
Easy enough, Gumerman explained. For the art lover and chocoholic, there’s Mast, a bean-to-bar chocolate. Wrapped in gorgeous paper with printed images of famous artwork, including Gustav Klimt’s “Mäda Primavesi” and Vincent van Gogh’s “Wheat Field with Cypresses,” the bars represent a partnership between Mast and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
According to the Big Apple-based chocolate company, a percentage of sales will raise funds needed to “keep the Met nourishing New Yorkers and the world for years to come.”
Books, records, Beanie Babies: Nostalgic, cool, collectible?
Eric Ackland is a self-described “book monger.” Between his two Amazing Books and Records stores, Ackland spends countless hours beside thousands of hardcovers and paperbacks. But being a bona fide bibliophile doesn't keep the business open. Understanding customers does, Ackland said.
“When people come into the store and they're looking for a gift, I ask them, ‘What does the person like? What do they like to read? To listen to? What are their interests?’ I can usually find something that’s pretty within the ballpark of what they'd like,” he said.
Ackland's stores (downtown and in Squirrel Hill) are a vault of potential literary and musical treasures, but some of the gifts he's stocking this season aren't the likeliest tote bag-stuffers (yes, Ackland sells tote bags).
Apart from a score of Scherenschnitte (German-style scissor-snipped greeting cards), customers can purchase scented candles and Beanie Babies.
“These are from the late ‘90s, early 2000s,” Ackland said of the Beanie Babies. “They are in mint condition, they are cute and they sell.”
Even decades after the Beanie Babies craze crashed, he said, there's still a community of people who collect the small stuffed animals.
“I bought them from someone who had hundreds,” Ackland said. “Some of them go for $20, $30 and $40 now. The only reason I am selling them for $10 each is I have to do triage with my time.”
Given the time of year, Ackland understands everyone is busy; that's why he recommends gift cards as go-to presents.
“The thing about gift cards is you're not just giving people a used book or record or two,” he said. “You're giving them the experience of shopping our store which is unique in this day and age. Bookstores have a lot of serendipity to them, which you don't experience with online sales.”
YETIs, mezuzahs and about 49,998 other options
Kenny Cohen of Contemporary Concepts has about 50,000 items inside his East Liberty store, he said.
Included within his vast stock are YETI products, flatware and even mezuzahs.
The cool thing about many of these items, he said, is that they can be engraved — in English or Hebrew.
Among other gifts, Cohen recommends Plates with Purpose. Created by Riverside Design Group, 15% of the money from each plate sold is donated to one of Riverside’s partner charities — nonprofits include the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, Habitat for Humanity and the Oncology Nursing Society.
Not only do each of the plates benefit a good cause, “it looks like you planned ahead because we can customize them,” Cohen said.
Being thoughtful is always fashionable, but for those searching for the “it” gift, Cohen suggested one popular item — a charcuterie board.
"Charcuterie is very in these days,” he said. “I don't know if people were staying home and eating more cheese and drinking more wine [during the pandemic] but charcuterie seems to be a thing.”
Though the art of placing appetizers on a wooden board or stone slab has existed for at least 500 years, charcuterie boards have blossomed in popularity since 2020. The Instagram hashtag “charcuterieboard” has more than 2 million posts.
Like appetizers on a tray, there are literally thousands of options when it comes to holiday gifts.
Regardless of their choice, Cohen hopes givers keep something else in mind. “Shop local,” he said. “Whether with us or someone else.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.