Published November 30th, 2016
Avoid the Malls and Shop Locally This Season
By Diane Claytor
Photos Diane Claytor
The holiday frenzy has begun. The roads are more congested, parking is harder to find, the to-do lists are getting longer and patience is beginning to thin. If anything is improving, it may be the kids' behavior, in the hopes that Santa does, indeed, know if they're good or bad.
There's no reason to endure the long lines of cars and people, the picked-through inventory or the stressed-out salespeople at the mall. Not when you can shop in Lamorinda. Here is a sampling of 12 independent family-owned stores in our community, a very small selection of the number of varied and excellent local places to shop, with some hot ideas for cool gifts. The majority of the stores offer complimentary gift wrapping and free nearby parking. All provide outstanding personal service.
Unique Candles and Bath Accessories
Across the Way has been a Moraga institution, providing beautiful and diverse household and gift items since 2000. A walk through the store inspires new and creative ideas for every room in your house. Manager Susan Marconi notes that, "I want people to feel comfortable looking for really cool items. We have unique candles, soaps, lotions, diffusers, all of the highest quality." Every corner, table and shelf in the store is filled with something beautiful you likely won't find elsewhere. There are exquisite 100 percent Egyptian bath towels, available in 60 colors; a collection of coffee-table quality cookbooks; the most incredible wooden hand-turned bowls from Spencer Peterman, who gets his wood from fallen trees; and candles, which are actually more like art pieces, made from 100 percent natural raw materials. There are serving pieces, place mats, cooking utensils and an excellent assortment of the popular Le Creuset cookware (at the same price, or possibly slightly less, than at most high end cookware stores, Marconi said.)
1409 Moraga Way, Moraga. Open Tues. - Fri. 11 a.m. - 6 p.m.; Sat. and Sun. 11 a.m. - 5 p.m.

Pomegranate Balsamic Vinegar
Is there a cook on your list? If so, your first stop should absolutely be Amphora Nueva, featuring the largest and freshest selection of extra virgin olive oils and aged balsamic vinegars on tap, all available for tasting. Employee Sharon Leone, who is unabashedly passionate about olive oils and balsamic vinegars, is happy to tell you her favorites (Pomegranate balsamic, "my absolute favorite," and Cobrancosa olive oil, "the best thing ever," Leone said), as well as share a variety of recipes and cooking ideas. With over 20 olive oils and an equal number of aged balsamics (with prices starting at $7 for a small bottle), as well as jams, tea towels and personalized gift packs, this is the perfect spot to get a gift for your friends, co-workers or yourself.
7 Fiesta Lane, Lafayette. Open Sun. - Thurs., 10 a.m. 6 p.m.; Fri. and Sat. 10 a.m. - 7 p.m.

Clocks and Home DĒcor
An old song by Chicago asked, "Does anybody really know what time it is?" At Clocks, Etc., everyone who walks in can answer that question. For 40 years, owners Scott Hampton and Wendy Tamis have made sure of that with an inventory of hundreds of clocks in every shape, size, material and style. There are clocks to match every dĒcor and accommodate every age and interest. And then there's the Etc. part: candles, bird feeders, wind chimes, decorative pillows, ceramic boxes, lamps, garden accessories, nightlights, ornaments and holiday dĒcor. There is definitely something for everyone on your list in this incredible store; and if you're there on the hour, you'll enjoy a cheerful symphony of sound.
971 Moraga Rd., Lafayette. Open Mon. - Sat. 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Cookbooks and Fine Serving Dishes
Indigo & Poppy sees the beauty in every room of the house and celebrates fine California living in everything it offers. Owner Thad Mirt believes happiness can be found in any well-chosen object, whether it's a painting, a rug or a vase. Elegant furnishings as well as high-quality accessories that make a home inviting are beautifully showcased, including candles, holiday dĒcor, French soaps, coffee table books and cookbooks, and serving pieces and dinnerware in many different colors and patterns, "not what you'd see in most stores," Mirt said. They also carry their own line of olive oils, balsamic vinegars, marinades and, according to Mirt, their very popular caramel sauce with cognac. Some of their more unique gift items include dog leashes that light up; a Warriors cheese board and, for the kids, the Indoor Snowball Fight, a bucket of white balls that actually feel like snowballs.
1009 Oak Hill Rd., Lafayette. Open Mon. - Sat. 10 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.

Waterford and Wedewood at a Discount
For more than 17 years, Hilton House Consignment and Design, this upscale Orinda consignment store has been offering top brands, including Waterford, Wedgewood, Baccarat, and Ethan Allen pieces at discounted prices. You'll find furniture and rugs (in case you want to buy a gift for yourself), and an assortment of table-top items: candles, dishes and glasses, serving pieces, cutlery and, of course, holiday dĒcor. All are high-end, name brands. "We're very picky about the items we take for consignment," said owner Cyndi Hilton-Girgis. She noted that they are also a jewelry store; beautiful pieces abound, some used and many new. "Our jewelry comes from three places: estates, private parties and jewelers wanting to rotate their inventory," Hilton-Girgis explained. "Our prices are so much lower than the jewelers."
21 Orinda Way, Orinda. Open Mon.-Sat., 10:30 a.m - 4:30 p.m.

Beautiful Bird Feeders and Garden Supplies
Everyone driving from Moraga to Orinda has passed it a zillion times. McDonnell Nursery, family owned for over 70 years, is passionate about gardening and offering unique and lovely gifts. Manager Sarah McDonnell has turned the front of the store into a gift boutique, including adorable signs (a personal favorite: "when you stop believing in Santa you get underwear"), candles, decorative pillows, mugs, platters, holiday dĒcor, and lighted prints. Then, of course, there are the beautiful garden items: bird feeders, bird baths, containers and pottery, and every type of plant you can imagine. If there's a gardener on your list, this is definitely the place to shop. And especially for the kids: "Sno to Go" an amazing powder that, when water is added, creates "an avalanche of cool, wet 'snow.'"
196 Moraga Way, Orinda. Open daily 8:30 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Great gift idea from Sanvitalia: tea towels.
Succulent arrangements from Sanvitalia.
Clever travel valet from Parker-Thatch.
A unique wooden salad bowl found at Orinda's Morrison's Jewelers.

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