On and off Walnut Street

While the virtues of online holiday shopping are undisputed, somehow the spirit of the season and the search for the perfect gift demands some hands-on experience with our consumer culture on steroids.

Even if the rest of the city hasnt recognized West Philadelphia as a shopping mecca yet, those of us who live and work here know that this is a great place to find the unique, the offbeat, the handmade and the outré. This year, the Current decided to look for gifts that are locally connected.

University Square

The best place to find local authors is in the capacious Books by Penn Authors section of the Penn Bookstore (3601 Walnut Street). Here are several that caught our eye:

Brotherly Love, a book-length poem by Daniel Hoffman (University of Pennsylvania Press $15.95), Animal Patients: 50 Years in the Life of an Animal Doctor, by Main Line veterinarian Edward J. Scanlon (Camino Books, Inc. $14.95) and Penn Presss entry in the must-have coffee table book competition, Pennsylvania Impressionism, edited by Brian Peterson ($49.95).

If the old saw Think Globally, Act Locally applies anywhere, it must be at the Black Cat (3426 Sansom St.), where work by local artists and artisans are presented with pride in this overstuffed place. Deb Brilla of Manayunk calls her company Wanna Buy a Watch?which makes sense when you see the beautifully-crafted earrings made with semi-precious stones and tiny machine-worked watch parts ($58) she creates. Bath 101 isnt the new freshmen requirement, its a collection of all natural productsfacial scrubs, bath salts and a delicious orange sandalwood soap ($6)made in a bathtub in South Philadelphia.

You can brush up your Yiddish at The Paper Garden (3402 Sansom St.), where their enormous selection of holiday cards includes a comprehensive Hanukah assortment including several pidgin-Yiddish cards for all the sheyne meydeles and boytchikels in your life.

Around the corner at the Penn Book Center (130 S. 34th Street) a display rack features the Philadelphia Pictorial Series. a collection of attractively designed slim volumes crammed with archival photographs published by Arcadia on topics that range from the geographicalGermantown, Mount Airy and Chestnut Hill by Judith Callard of the Germantown Historical Society ($18.99)to the sociologicalGay and Lesbian Philadelphia by Thom Nickels ($19.99). Philadelphias own Bill Cosby has an enthusiastic blurb on the cover of Nelson Mandelas Favorite African Folktales (W.W. Norton, $24.95), but the best reasons to buy this large-format book are its well-written stories and vivid illustrations.

Museum Mile

The sophisticated shopper need go no further east than 33rd Street and University of Pennsylvania Museums (3260 South Street) two lively shops to find Chinese turquoise, jackets with exuberant Uzbek embroidery and Cambodian hand-made silk sarongs. But wheres the Philadelphia connection? We found it in Mrs. Woolleys hat ($24)a marvelous wool felt cloche with a flexible brim that encourages improvisation. The famed archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley (and his Mrs.) excavated the Royal Cemetery at Ur (now Iraq) and that renowned collection is one of the jewels in our Museums collection. On Friday, Dec. 5, the Museum shops kick off a weekend sale with 15 percent discounts for PennCard holders.

West Side Story

Way out west beyond 40th Street, where fashion yields to funk, the Toviah Thrift Store (4211-13 Chestnut Street) is where the cognoscenti find the look for less. Amidst the jam-packed racks are terrific findsslate blue suede Ferragamo pumps ($17.50), a heathery tweed mans wool sport jacket with jaunty leather buttons ($10) and a cornflower 60s Leslie Fay shiftvery Givenchythat Audrey Hepburn would have killed for ($5).

No holiday shopping list would be complete without food. The seasons office parties and open houses are a grazers paradise. The fixings for these movable feasts can all be found at The Fresh Grocer (40th and Walnut Streets) where a mouth-watering selection of party trays, including three pounds of mini-cannolis ($24.99) to feed our Philly soul are available from the catering department.

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Originally published on December 5, 2002