by THE INLANDER STAFF & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & he Inlander's ALL-LOCAL look at what you might find under the tree this year.

COEUR D'ALENE & r & by TED S. McGREGOR JR. & r &

& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & here are few places more pleasant to deposit your holiday stash than Coeur d'Alene. Thanks to Good Morning America and Sam "Champion" (allegedly his real name), the nation got to ooh and aah at the light show we all take for granted. Maybe the Lake City's 15 minutes of morning fame will remind you how nice it can be to stroll 'n' spend along Sherman and then take in the lights, the water and, this year, the ice skating rink all out in the Coeur d'Alene Resort's front yard.

Just across the street from the zillion watts of wonder, the Plaza Shops lend an upscale anchor to the Sherman scene. Alongside mainstays like J.D. Gray's, Finan McDonald and Watches by Gosh is the six-month-old Story Woods Gallery, featuring the VINTAGE PHOTOS OF ROSS HALL. In the early-1930s, Hall and his wife settled in Sandpoint, and, fine arts photography degree in hand, he started pointing his lens at North Idaho's raw beauty. You can get large-format Ross Hall prints, both framed (starting at $375) and unframed (starting at $225) at Story Woods. There are classics of early skiers at Mount Spokane, a shot of the old Playland Pier that jutted out onto Lake Coeur d'Alene and even Bing Crosby fishing on Lake Pend Oreille. But Hall was best known for his simple, elegant shots of snow on trees.

Out along Sherman, you'll find a fun collection of restaurants and shops, including the long-timer Clark's Jewelry, All Things Irish, Christmas at the Lake and Simple Pleasures, the gift and d & eacute;cor shop that has been owned and operated by Terry and Marilyn Cooper for years now. They're featuring local artist Pam Johnson's distinctive beveled glass necklaces, which can be custom-made to order. But their selection of beautiful WINE STOPPERS ($13) offers a great topper to any wine-related package. And for grandpa, a copy of the self-published memoir by North Idahoan C.J. "Chuck" Custer would be a big winner, if only for the title, which I'll just award right now "Best Title For a Memoir Ever": I Did My Damnedest.

Nestled into a classic old building, right next to the Pita Pit is the two-year-old Figpickel's Toy Emporium, owned by New York transplant Brett Sommer. It's a bustling place, with high school dudes showing grown-ups how all the toys work under a gleaming, pressed-tin ceiling. Near the back, you can spend an hour looking through the bins of toys that you can mix and match for the perfect stocking. Just above you loom four giant mounted heads -- this is Idaho, after all. But these aren't stuffed, taxidermically speaking; they're stuffed animal heads. Cute. Using the restroom at Figpickels is an other-worldly experience -- literally. Sommer has his hot-selling LASER STARS LIGHT SHOW ($170) set up in there, and the universe is recreated on the walls and ceiling courtesy of a Class III laser beam. This is the kind of way cool toy any kid (all the way up through college age, really) would love. You can even turn a knob to create a cloudy nebulae.

If you want to get out into the real North Idaho, you can tool up Government Way -- the farther you get out of town, the more you get that collision of rural and urban vibe, where Tim's Special Cut Meats (I love that place) shares the road with Jake's Dry Dock. Jake, in case you didn't know, is that grinning cartoon guy who looks out at you from all those Life is Good T-shirts. Jake's Dry Dock is 100 percent Life is Good merchandise -- it's a perky place, and you can go off your Prozac while you shop there. It's easy to see why the Jacobs brothers of Boston, when down to their last $78, were able to launch a multi-million-dollar empire of affirmation. There's a ton of stuff to choose from -- golf balls, dog beds, entry mats, volleyballs, wallets, journals. I needed a nudge, when the woman who works there came to my rescue: "A PAIR OF JAMMIES ($50) and A COFFEE MUG ($10), that's what I'm all about." Perfect.

The farther up the road you get, the newer the mini-malls, and the spiffy Hayden Creek Plaza is home to Just Because, a women's fashion shop with a Coldwater Creek-ish flair. There are plenty of Brighton handbags and a wide selection of LIVE A LITTLE SUEDE JACKETS ($90). They come in all kinds of bright colors and are -- get this -- fully washable. I have no idea how they made suede washable. That's just another one of those holiday mysteries only an elf could solve.


& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & S & lt;/span & o I'm sitting on this red, overstuffed couch at Mark's Guitar Shop in the Garland District, strumming this gorgeous guitar -- blond top, medium-brown woodgrain sides, tone clear as a bell -- wondering what in the world to buy for Christmas. I briefly consider this as a present to myself, but at $1,749 I figure my wife wouldn't approve.

As I noodle around, I look at the other instruments hanging from the walls -- electric guitars of all colors, bass guitars, old guitars that look like they might have been played by old Mississippi Delta blues masters.

At last, my eyes land on an irregularly shaped box and I know I've found my prize: A BEGINNER'S GUITAR, complete with tuner, "gig bag" and more ($199).

"Do you sell many of these at Christmas?" I ask Nate Corning at the counter.

"Yeah, this is really the only time we stock them," Corning says. "We've never done pre-made packages like this before."

Turns out guitars are a popular gift to give, but not always to receive -- "I wind up buying back some of these," says Corning -- as sore-fingered recipients decide that learning how to play the guitar isn't as easy as it looks.

A few minutes later I poke my head into The Clock House and Walter Zimke warmly welcomes me. On the wall behind him are a couple dozen CUCKOO CLOCKS, imported from the Mecca of cuckoo clocks, the Black Forest of southern Germany.

The clocks are hand-carved and often stained dark. The carvings above the clock faces often feature -- appropriately -- birds. Some have pitched roofs, others the heads of male deer with large racks.

Hanging from the bottoms of the clocks are metal cones, like those that fall from trees. They are the weights that operate the clocks and the cuckoos, explains Zimke. Clocks have one, two or three cones; those with two have cuckoos, those with three also have music boxes.

The smaller clocks (about $30 and up) usually have less elaborate carvings and are sometimes painted. The larger clocks run $300 or more. My favorite ($165) is medium-sized, with two cones and little red flowers painted next to the clock face.

Next door is Ardith Dunlap's shop, Queen Mum's Treasures.

"We cater to the Red Hat Ladies," Dunlap tells me as I gaze at the racks of red and purple hats and clothing in the back of the store. The Red Hat Ladies are an international phenomenon; groups of women 50 and older don red hats -- pink hats if they're younger

than 50 -- when they get together socially. The Inland Northwest has about 80 Red Hat groups, Dunlap says.

My attention turns to her collection of painted teacups and pots with English floral designs. A bone china cup and saucer -- the best of the line -- run almost $40. My eye wanders to A SET OF SMALL CERAMIC CUPS AND SAUCERS in a velour-lined carrying box for $32. It's a great gift for children who enjoy tea parties.

As I walk by the display window of The Ruby Slipper, I notice a bright blue pair of rubber boots. I step inside to give them a closer look; my daughter bought a pair of these -- different color -- earlier this year. Then I notice that, sitting next to the boots, is a LAMINATED CARRY BAG that looks like the front page of The New York Times. ($52) The bag has two leather straps.

"Wow! Who makes these?" I call to Brittany Cowan, who's sitting behind the counter.

"An artist in L.A.," answers Cowan. "She cuts up The New York Times or The L.A. Times and turns them into bags." There's even newsprint inside. My eye is drawn to a photo of the green grass courts at Forest Hills, N.Y., site of the U.S. Open tennis championships.

Even if you aren't very worldly, something like this could make you look like you are.

I save my favorite stop for last: Booktraders, one of those shops where the books are more important than the d & eacute;cor.

When I find a paperback version of Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air I take it to the clerk, Samantha Jett.

"How do I calculate how much this costs?" I ask. Jett goes through it with me (it's $4, by the way) telling me that people who have built credit accounts -- those who bring in books to trade -- sometimes get better deals.

This is the kind of place where people come in, grab a book, find a chair and read awhile. As I look around, I find a real prize: AN OLD HARDBOUND VERSION OF THE NEW WORLD OF COMPUTERS, written in 1965. It sat on the shelves at University Elementary School at one time. The cover's a little warped, but it's a heck of a bargain at $1.60.


& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & he region of Spokane just north of the Spokane River is on its way up. Destined to be the resting place of mega-development Kendall Yards. Predicted to be on course for a major neighborhood renaissance. It's slated, basically, to become a destination neighborhood. In, like, five or ten years or something.

Right now, though, it's a total interzone, a place you either live or you drive through on the way to the place you live. It's where you'll sit down for a quick meal before heading downtown or where you pick up take-out for the family on your way back up the hill. There's a gaggle of restaurants along Monroe (which also boasts a stunning concentration of bail bondsmen) and Maple/Ash and even lower Division, but comparably little retail. So what are carbon-footprint-aware gift getters to do? Get creative, and probably a little thrifty.

There are a few good antique stores along Monroe (White Rabbit and the Monroe Street Bridge Antique Market) and good thrift stores on Boone (Value Village and Classy Rack, like they needed introduction) but the gifts contained within are largely fate-driven, one-off finds, not the kind of things we can really guide you to.

The area does have a handful of unique (and in some cases completely bizarre) non-antique, non-thrift places to facilitate you giving the gift of getting this holiday season. Here are a few, presented roughly east to west.

Newly installed in Gonzaga's Kennedy Apartments (just off Ruby on Pearl and Boone), the University's bookstore has spun off an athletic retail outlet. It has everything you'll find at Champs or Sports Authority -- the replica jerseys, the sweatshirts, all the usual branded apparel -- plus just about everything else you can think to brand.

Like hamburgers. The store stocks branding irons ($25), giving you the ability to sear Spike the Bulldog's smug mug into your ground round. A great gift for the barbecuist in the family, but not exactly in great demand in the winter. In fact, there was only one left in the store at press time, so if you go and find them sold out, we suggest the GU BACKBOARD COVER ($35), so all your neighbors in suburbia can tell from your driveway just where your sports loyalties lie.

Tobacco World has a great selection of cigars, pipes ($80-$137) and custom tobacco blends ($4-$34) along with just about everything else the grandpa -- or the dude who desperately wishes he were a grandpa, like *cough* Joel Smith *cough* -- on your list would want. The store's secret, though, is its flask collection. Ranging from the perfectly simple to the hopelessly ornate, they come in a size range from the tiny 5-ounce ($25 for unadorned stainless steel) to the no-way-in-hell-this-is-fitting-in-my-pocket 18-ounce bad boy ($35). Our personal favorite was a DUAL-HEADED, BI-CHAMBERED, LEATHER-CASED FLASK ($29) that lets you roll with two different kinds of liquor at once. Keep one side filled with scotch for your friends to pull off so they don't have to know your other chamber is filled with Peach Stoli.

Wonders of the World is aptly named and seems to have taken care to stock as many of the world's wonders (or at least their scale-sized facsimiles) as possible. Running the gamut from religious -- wooden Buddha heads ($140) mingle with various pieces of totemic art ($16-$125) -- to aesthetic, with statues of the Three Graces ($325) sitting across from a sculpted representation of DaVinci's Vitruvian Man ($40), to geologic (fossils of trilobites, ammonites and fish at $20 to $400 and up), the joint has a little something for every worldview and metaphysical leaning. If you want to get the special someone on your list a gift that speaks deeply to the origins of the planet, we suggest the MASSIVE GEODE on display as soon as you walk in the door, a steal at $2,000.

Unless you're a skier or a snowboarder, the outdoorsy opportunities take a nosedive in winter, meaning any mountain man or woman you buy for ain't exactly going to get instant gratification from their present, unless you buy them SNOW SHOES. REI has quite a selection. Their Website has "heritage" (read: old school) shoes from $99, but the in-store models range from $189 to $290. For the added cash you get increased degrees of ruggedness (trail shoes vs. backcountry shoes; poly-vinyl laminate decking vs. urethane-impregnated nylon; aluminum vs. aerospace-grade aluminum). Basically, you're going to want to get a good look at the person you're buying for and ask, "How big a badass is homey?" Then you spend accordingly.

Walking into Time Bomb is like being pelted with little pieces of your past. Thwap, there's the AT-AT Walker ($135) your little brother broke; smack, the Indiana Jones trading cards ($9 per page) you thought were going to make you a millionaire collector; pow, the SCHWINN SIDEWINDER ($350) you seriously thought about stealing from your friend Jason. Think of it as Value Village meets Boo Radley's, then ramp up the geek-chic by a factor of three. The Sidewinder's the most impressive bike in the joint, but there's a big selection of cruiser bikes ($100-$400) to meet any hipster's needs.


& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & he Goodwill is good enough for me and brand names rarely impress... except when it comes to gift-giving. Generally, I give gifts when I feel like it, not when duty dictates. But if I am going to join the traditional masses, I try hard to give something that reflects the unique relationships I feel so fortunate to have. This year, after spending many a weekend rediscovering Sandpoint, I'd declare this north country town ideal for shoppers and browsers alike.

First up: Kevin, who was supposed to help me with my gift-giving article but was snowbound. For $260, I could get my friend into a pair of high-tech MSR SNOWSHOES, available at Outdoor Experience. Their array of beach cruisers and bicycles teased of summers past even as a fresh snow flew. Kevin Nye, who has co-owned the 5,000-square-foot store with Marc DeLavergne since 1986, also rents snowshoes and cross-country equipment, and sells sporting clothing (Patagonia, merino wool pieces by Icebreaker), shoes, a select supply of camping stuff (mostly sleeping bags), backpacks, the aforementioned bicycles, and kayaks.

Down the street at Truby's Health Mart and Lunch Cafe, I found a cornucopia of healthful and interesting things for my friend Melanie. At Truby's, owners Bill and Carol Truby have been providing an assortment of herbs, teas and cooking items in bulk for 30 years. They also sell supplements, beauty products, and health books. Their in-store caf & eacute; serves up heartwarming soups, sandwiches and other vegan vittles so you can nosh while you noodle about the benefits of sassafras versus sarsaparilla. I picked up an assortment of DETOX TEAS (to clean out the crud leftover from Christmas cravings of sugar- and fat-laden goodies) from Yogi Tea for Melanie along with a gift certificate as well so she can get more of what she wants.

Around the corner is Finan McDonald's Clothing Company, started 20 years ago and expanded to Coeur d'Alene around 1998. Finan McDonald's carries clothing that's comfortable on the slopes and on the job, which is perfect for my rugged roofer boyfriend. Owner Ben Tate, who co-owns the store with wife Rhonda, pointed out the Alpine Utility pants from Mountain Khakis ($80), a high-end kind of Carhartt jeans with double-seat and knees. Hmm -- I'll think about those. Nearby, a wall-display of Ex Officio underwear catches my eye with its advertisement: "17 countries, 6 weeks and one pair of underwear." Nightmare scenario? No -- camper's mentality on a global travel scale. You buy two pairs and wash one every other day so you always have a fresh pair. Two pairs of EX OFFICIO BIKINI BRIEFS ($16 each) are ideal for my friend Nichole, who's been contemplating a trip to India, where traveling light is an imperative.

Kids of all ages like Zany Zebra. For my partner's soon-to-be 7-year-old, there was the practical -- a KNITTED CHENILLE ANIMAL CAP that looked like Tony the Tiger ($24) -- and the impractical -- monster finger puppets, mini-tools (wrenches, pliers and hammers, so he can be just like dad), eyeballs, bugs and goofy gadgets like the Chicken Chucker. This novelty store recently taken over by Ranel Hanson also has boutique clothing and odd housewares (like the Barbie chandelier I've coveted for years -- Santa? Hello?), sort of a mini-Archie McPhee (makes Spencer's Gifts look like child's play).

Last stop is my new favorite: Cabin Fever. I'd move in if owner Rebecca Edwards and her handsome setter-mix Piper would let me. It's urban lodge chic with earthy items like leather seating, bentwood furnishings, candles, wall hangings and exquisite Indian rugs. The displays are impeccable, lovely to look at and touch, with items for bed, bath, living room, dining room, wherever. Although well-suited for Montana log cabins, some items made me think of Cape Cod bungalows or Adirondack cabins, like the HAND-EMBROIDERED, STATE-THEMED PILLOW that read like a '50s-era advertisement for all things Idaho ($158). Hmm. I still hadn't bought anything for my sweetheart. Ah, I'll bet Cabin Fever has a lingerie section. Talk about creature comforts!


& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & L & lt;/span & ooking for funky, I found traditional. The north side surely has its share of strip malls dominated by big boxes and national brands -- and even if you seek for out-of-the-way, locally owned stores, you're more likely to find traditional gifts instead of something outlandish. But tradition works during the holidays, right? And besides, it's fun to explore the kind of stores where the owners themselves are happy to provide detailed shopping advice.

If you want to start getting into the holiday spirit in late September, Ritter's House of Christmas will be glad to oblige. Ritter's is a plant nursery for most of the year -- they've been around since 1951 -- but Debby Ritter turns an entire room into a giant Christmas fantasy well ahead of shopping season. (They've had a House of Christmas every year since 1981.) Of course you can add to your Department 56 collection of lighted houses (entire villages with Dickens, Snow and New England themes). Ritter's also sets up several theme-decorated Christmas trees, like this year's "Casino" tree, full of ornaments shaped like dice and bingo cards. Tradition runs strong among Christmas shoppers, however, and the most popular Christmas gifts remain the POINSETTIAS. Ritter's grows 9,500 of them a year, and you can purchase traditional red or the kind that have been glitter spray-painted in popular colors (blue, yellow and purple).

Venturing from poinsettias to quilting, we're still in the Zone of Tradition. At Pacific Crescent Quilting, even quilt virgins like me can take a class, buy a QUILT KIT, acquire some basic tools, and within weeks create a dazzling geometric pattern to hang on the wall. Instruction, tools and fabric can easily run $200, but you're not just limited to wall quilts. Quilters also create baby blankets, tablecloths, tote bags, placemats, throw rugs and more. Pacific Crescent provides work areas where classes for kids and teens, sociable quilting groups and even doll clubs meet to pursue their paper-piecing and delicate appliqu & eacute;s. And while the "grandma brigade" may be sewing cutesy items for their grandbabies, plenty of boomers and Gen X'ers are attracted to quilting, says owner Sandra Wade. In fact, the handcrafted, step-outside-the-chaos nature of quilting goes a long way toward explaining its appeal: "It's a very creative outlet for a very stressful society," she says.

The educational toys at Whiz Kids are for creative people too -- little ones. If playing with dolls and all their accessories can teach kids about family relationships, then the whole series of Calico Critters of Cloverleaf Corners could prove instructive. (Me, I favored the Hawthorne Hamster Family.) And the entire line of Melissa & amp; Doug toys (the $150 Victorian Dollhouse, the $15 dining room set that helps furnish it) are very popular with parents of creative youngsters. Even a traditional Candy Land game ($12) can be educational.

But there's education, and then there's creating medieval havoc -- which is why my eye was drawn to PLAYMOBIL'S CATAPULT (for age 4 and older), which comes complete with scaling ladders, grappling hooks, a death-skull flag and four plastic warriors outfitted with crossbows, maces and the cutest little smiling expressions. Whiz kids like their intellectual stimulation.

Many adults, on the other hand, depend for their stimulation on chocolate. From the moment you step into the checkerboard-floor showroom at Hallett's Chocolate & amp; Treat Factory (located in an industrial area three blocks north of Francis Avenue), it smells like comfort. And decadence. The aromas make clear that plenty of stimulation is at hand. Hallett's has chocolate molded in the shapes of poker chips and playing cards, race cars and wrecking balls, cigars and hockey players, cell phones, calculators and the state of Washington. There's even a FIVE-POUND SANTA IN MILK CHOCOLATE, and a large incisor in white chocolate. (Get it? A sweet tooth.)

The sheer variety of chocolates is dizzying: strawberry buttercream, champagne truffles, hazelnut praline, haystacks, seafoam, amaretto ecstasy, pumpkin pie fudge, sugar-free coconut royale creams, and the spicy Habanero caramel ("the caramel that bites back").

Recipes here are huge: Into large vats go a hundred pounds of sugar here and eight pounds of butter there, yielding 5,000 pieces of chocolate. The most popular varieties, says Hallett's Kitty Kane, are the peanut butter crunch and the huckleberry bliss. Around here, we like our traditional, regional tastes.

For a less traditional north-side shopping adventure, how about outfitting your pooch in a get-up that Paris Hilton might buy for her dog? (Or herself.) Because that's what The Yuppy Puppy (at the Y) is all about: Pampering dogs with grooming and do-it-yourself doggie baths. They've got non-allergenic turkey jerky ($9.50 for a one-pound bag) and all kinds of fun dog toys. Hanging on the tiny clothing racks was a black doggie nightshirt ($13) that read "Bad to the Bone." But what caught my dog-loving eye was a HOT PINK CAMO-PATTERN REVERSIBLE CANINE RAIN JACKET with detachable hood ($18). Heaven forbid that any water-loving Labrador retriever should actually get wet. But at least I had ventured beyond the traditional in my Yuletide scavenger hunt through north-side emporiums.


& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & G & lt;/span & ift giving in my family has always been something of a joke. Or a contest: Let's see who can give the most useless piece of junk that nobody will ever use that will end up rotting or rusting in some corner of a dank basement. The cornerstone of the contest is who can act the most thankful for the always gaudy and unpractical so-called "present." The current winner is my mom, who two Christmases ago begrudgingly maintained a smile as she unwrapped a snakeskin lamp made out of antlers. My sister thought it would go with her country-themed kitchen.

This year I trekked to the Spokane Valley to end -- I hope -- the long tradition of junk giving. My plan was to uncover some unique gifts that will make my family smile for real. I found some really cool places and some interesting gifts as I sailed across seven miles of strip malls and freeway. While quality gift stores are few and far between in that vast land, I discovered several places to find gifts that no one will have to pretend to like.

For my first gift, there's no way I can go wrong. My brother-in-law -- a former chef -- loves coming up with new and innovative ways to cook different parts of dead cow. What could be better than a big box of meat? THE BIG BEEF BOX, offered at Eggers Quality Meats ($250), holds an assortment of cuts that will satisfy even his obsessive love of marinating. Forty pounds of assorted rib-eyes, T-bones, sirloins, cube steaks, butterfly steaks, a pot roast, a sirloin roast, and tri-tips will feed his family for the next six months. Eggers' meat comes from farms around Spokane and Sandpoint, so it's fresh and local.

My mom hates coffee but she loves tea. She'll be reminiscing about tea parties in Victorian homes with picket fences covered with ivy when she unwraps the OLD-FASHIONED HATBOX FILLED WITH ASSORTED TEAS AND ACCESSORIES from Mad Hatties Boutique and Teas. Owner Deborah Simpson loves her tea and is always eager to show off the jewelry made by local women. Gift boxes range in price from $20 to $50.

My dad spent my childhood ranting about the importance of guns. Yet, as long as I've been alive he's never owned one. I assume that had something to do with my type-A safety-obsessed mom who banned the trigger at home after she began having kids. As we're all grown up, I think it's about time my dad had something new to fawn over -- something with bullets and gunpowder from the Gunatorium. Located on a hillside in an old building, the Gunatorium was originally owned by gun-lover Ed Karrer in the 1950s and is now owned and operated by his daughter, Mary Lou Hawks, and Robert Thomas. They pointed me to a SEMI-AUTOMATIC RIFLE WITH A REMOVEABLE MAGAZINE for $650. They stated that it's the perfect gun for going hunting.

My sister, who loves to decorate -- you know, the one who gave my mother the snake lamp -- will get some new handmade trinkets and unique decorative pieces from Simply Northwest. The store has a little bit of everything from hand-carved bears by Carl Schultz to baby onesies with WSU and Gonzaga logos on them. My sister's getting A PAIR OF HANDMADE ANTLER WINE GOBLETS for $40, and a hand-carved graphite dragonfly that you can actually write with for $50. Owner De Scott buys and sells gift items made exclusively by local artisans.

For the little girls in my family I went the used route at the Classy Rack thrift store. There I found an old WOODEN TRUNK and loaded it with 1980s-VINTAGE PROM DRESSES and all the sparkly high heels I could find, assembling a custom personal dress-up trunk that will give them years of entertainment -- and I did it for less than $70. The best part is that the thrift store is owned by the Union Gospel Mission, which means the proceeds go to helping homeless men, women and children throughout the year.

While I spent way more time shopping than I normally do, at least I know that I'm giving a gift that the receiver will actually like. Maybe it won't start a new trend in family giving -- but at least my gifts won't cause a fire hazard in somebody's basement.


& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & D & lt;/span & owntown Spokane's burgeoning boutiques are the perfect antidote to big-box fatigue this holiday season. Historic brick buildings framed by holiday lights, artfully arranged small spaces and personal customer service are an appealing alternative to the vast parking lots, long aisles of ubiquitous white linoleum and crowds you'll find at most big-box retailers. This year, head to downtown Spokane and enjoy a sense of discovery as you cross names off of your holiday gift list.

Lolo Boutique in the developing SoDo (South Downtown) District is the perfect antithesis to the big box experience. This organic, sophisticated boutique is set in the old Cyrus O'Leary's pie building on Second Avenue. Clear glass doors open up to rough-hewn wood ceilings. Natural light streams in through large windows, illuminating glass cloches and Caldrea soaps. Vintage bureau drawers open to display luxurious Archipelago candles. Clothing is displayed in mini-collections throughout the recently expanded space. Tucked in an armoire near the front window, you'll find a stunning assortment of Tulle wool coats at outrageously low prices ($71). These vintage-inspired tailored wool coats retail for roughly $90 at Nordstrom. Best of all, they are washable wool. Lolo's MATT & amp; NAT PURSES are another stylish option. These sleek bags have the supple feel of leather, but are actually a vegan product made in Canada. They come in a range of colors from cognac to a rich midnight blue and retail between $68 and $116.

Nestled in a turn-of-the-century warehouse, 1900 Furnishings and D & eacute;cor is a hidden gem in Spokane's warehouse district. Its not the easiest place to find, tucked on Pacific Avenue, off Division, across from Robert Karl Cellars, but its certainly worth seeking out. High ceilings and exposed brick walls house exquisite home furnishings that range from Stickley-quality Arts-and-Crafts sideboards to inexpensive ornamental clocks and picture frames. The WENDY ADDISON COLLECTION ORNAMENTS are a standout this holiday season: The series of vintage-inspired ornaments and Christmas decorations are made out of paper and real glass glitter. Over time, the glass develops a lustrous patina that grows even more beautiful with age. At prices that range from $12 for a 3-D star or $35 for a set of 12, these beautiful ornaments are a wonderful gift for teachers, co-workers or the women in your book club.

Main Avenue is downtown's primary shopping arterial. River Park Square houses a variety of quality local retailers like Anderson & amp; Emami and Boehm's, but don't let your journey stop there. Head east on Main and you'll discover Spokane's premier upscale women's clothing stores, Cues and Jigsaw. Venture one block further to find Argentum Aurum's new Main Avenue gallery. Natural stained wood floors and display cases and exposed brick walls create the serene, Northwest-gallery setting Argentum Aurum's custom jewelry deserves. Each piece is handcrafted by local artists Debra and Tarawyn Brehren. All the pieces are designed with rich symbolism, and make exceptionally personal, meaningful gifts. For example, the "Happy Home" colored resin pendant ($98) would be a wonderful gift for a wife or mother. The "Secure Heart" charm ($18) and 16-inch toggle chain ($31) would be a sweet, not over the top, gift for a new girlfriend. The brand new "TRUE BALANCE" COLLECTION OF STERLING SILVER PENDANTS ($90) features images that represent wisdom, freedom, forgiveness or insight. Each piece comes with a description card to explain the symbolism featured on the pendant.

If running gear or sportswear is on your list, head across the street to the family-owned Sport Town. The staff is extremely knowledgeable and well trained. Even if you're not an athlete, they can guide you to the right fit or product. The latest shipment from Nike offers layering pieces in a beautiful deep burgundy, a soft pink, black and red. The NIKE SPHERE THERMAL FULL-ZIP JACKET ($120) is a luxurious standout. It's made out of double-brushed microfiber fleece that's super silky to the touch. This high-tech soft-shell jacket offers instant warmth and insulation for running through the Inland Northwest's cold winters or even just driving carpool. The Sphere Thermal fabric creates an insulating air space to warm the body with its own heat. Nike claims it's worn by elite speed skaters during warm - up laps, among others. Washington State Cougar fans and Zags boosters will like the velour hoodies ($48) and sweatpants ($34) by Antigua. Each cozy separate features tasteful, understated school logos.

One of the most beautiful places to experience the Christmas season is the Davenport Hotel. Adorned with opulent decorations, the exquisite downtown hotel is truly magical during the holiday season. It's also a deluxe shopping destination. The Davenport Hotel Signature Collection gift store is the ultimate stop for lavish bedding, linens and imported soaps and lotions. The Davenport Hotel Candy Shoppe's famous Bruttles ($5 for six pieces), decadent soft peanut brittle topped with drizzled chocolate, are the ultimate grown-up stocking stuffer. Or pamper your wife, friend or mom with a gift certificate for Spa Paradiso, located in the basement of the Davenport Hotel. THE SPA SAMPLER ($173) features a refreshing spa facial, a mineral salt glow and a Swedish massage. Cross those final names off your shopping list, then settle into a cozy chair in the posh lobby and drink in the majesty of the holiday season.


& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & H & lt;/span & ere's the perfect gift for that ambitious man in your life who hasn't realized the full potential of the latent forces of evil within him: HOW TO BE A VILLAIN, by Neil Zawacki ($13). It would look great on any manager's desk. It's full of quotes from infamous and accomplished villains, and covers all the necessary bases: perfecting an evil laugh, acquiring evil henchmen, selecting villainous fashion (black or red?) and hatching evil plans. There's even a companion volume: The Villain's Guide to Better Living. Actually, both are just an excuse to visit Boo Radley's -- you're going to forget what you went there for anyway, as soon as you walk in the door. The store itself is a mood-lifter. Know someone who needs a rubber chicken, rubber nose or rubber ducky with devil horns? Or a gag that flouts the boundary of what's acceptable? From the gummy haggis to the Jesus action figure, Boo's is a pantry of mischief.

Around the corner and onto Main Avenue, Uncle's -- inside Auntie's -- is another nifty little store that'll give you more ideas than you walked in with. Give the gift of frustration: brain teasers! They make great stocking stuffers. The new line of HANAYAMA PUZZLES ($10) are made of cast metal, are attractive, and are sold in a range of difficulty levels that are clearly marked on the box. For those who have a few more dollars to spend, one of Uncle's themed chess sets would make a classy office decoration, even if the guy you're buying for doesn't play a lot of chess. Don't hesitate to ask manager Donn Eshelman anything about Uncle's extensive stock of board games -- he gives the impression he's played them all. Strategy games, card games, party games, trivia games -- Eshelman says their popularity is on the rise.

For the audiophiles and gadget guys, cross a slushy Main Avenue to Huppin's -- because the way to a man's heart is through his USB port. A coveted gift right now is the BOSE SOUNDDOCK FOR IPODS ($299; $399 for the portable version). Plug in your iPod and you have a compact, high-quality shelf or tabletop sound system for your music library. Also -- if you can pull your eyes off the monstrous home entertainment systems -- check out the popular digital picture frames ($90-$350). They range in size from 7 inches to 15 inches and use a flash-memory card to create a slideshow of images. One stylish rosewood frame by Pandigital even has a small set of speakers behind it so MP3s can also be added as a soundtrack, and a tiny little remote control with which to program it.

For the man who enjoys the good life, head up Washington Street to Vino! -- the only stand-alone wine store in Spokane. Wine enthusiasts appreciate the accoutrements of their delectable vice, and I'm thinking crystal. One of Riedel's most popular lines right now is the "O" COLLECTION OF STEMLESS WINE GLASSES ($26 per pair). Terry Knight says she sells a lot of them to boaters and campers because the glasses travel well and are less apt to spill. They feel good in the hand, too. They're sold as wine receptacles, but they'd also make perfect brandy or scotch snifters. The sophisticate you're shopping for might also like a wine journal in which he can keep labels and notes ($15), or the Dolce ice cooler: a mold for making a creative wine cooler of ice ($25). Don't forget the stocking-size wine samples, too ($3-$9). Vino! arranges and ships wine gift baskets to order. (By some strange twist of fate, there's a cheese market just two doors down -- Saunders, "purveyors of imported and artisanal cheese." How fortuitous! The Venn Diagram of wine-sippers and cheese-nibblers does show some overlap, you know.)

And for the well-groomed man-about-downtown, we're back on Main Avenue at Weldon's. Clean, modern and upscale, they sell gift cards for any of the services they offer, or any combination thereof. THE WELDON SIGNATURE ($28) features a hot face towel, shampoo, scalp massage, cut and style, a little loving attention to those eyebrows and ears that seem to get fuzzier as our hairlines recede, and a hot towel neck-shave. If your guy is on Santa's really nice list, you could throw in a massage, too, from a 15-minute chair job to a deep tissue or hot stone treatment ($15-$75). And they do body waxing for those guys who like the clean look ($20 and up).

SOUTH HILL & r & by ANN M. COLFORD & r &

& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & S & lt;/span & hopping has never been one of my favorite things to do, but at the holidays I like selecting unusual gifts for my friends, things they might not think to buy for themselves. I also like living in a community with a variety of small, unique shops, places where I can find those unusual things unavailable at the biggest, brassiest box store. If I want eclectic shops in my community I have to support them. Luckily, those places are the most fun to shop.

We talk about the South Hill like it's one big homogenous place, but really it's a collection of smaller neighborhoods and commercial hubs, each one a little different in character than the others. You won't be able to do a lot of sweet nostalgic strolling from shop to shop amid the drifting snowflakes, like in some other neighborhoods, but the shopping choices are surprisingly broad.

Perhaps the most obvious place to start a South Hill shopping expedition is at Lincoln Heights, home to Second Look Books, Stanek's, Miller Hardware and Black Tie Coffee.

Just down the block, I head for 29th Avenue Artworks, in a little house on the south side of 29th between Regal and Ray. Throughout the year, owner Deb Sheldon does custom framing, working to protect, preserve and showcase everything from original art to historic documents and sentimental keepsakes. During December, the shop is featuring small works of original art by local artists in a range of media (and prices, from $22 to $500) from jewelry and wall art to works on paper to metal sculptures. My choice is a FUSED GLASS PIN, a Cubist-inspired brightly colored abstract by local artist Petra Mertz -- truly a one-of-a-kind gift.

On a friend's recommendation, I turn south on Regal and visit Ferrante's. Beyond the Italian specialties on the menu -- including the yummy gelato -- co-owner Robbie Ferrante brings in a fun selection of merchandise, from jewelry to purses to home d & eacute;cor, and, of course, food gifts: wine, pasta, tapenades and dips, plus their own candied pecans. I see a great little beaded purse ($29), handcrafted in Montana, that I'm hoping to find in my own stocking come Christmas morning, along with a set of four appetizer plates decorated with flowing words about wine ($35) -- perfect for that friend who loves to host wine tastings. But I settle on a BOHEMIAN CUFF BRACELET ($29), made from recycled tea tins and soda cans by an artist from Portland. Each design is different, with the colorful metal wrapped in a white brass alloy and adjustable to fit just about any size wrist. And since it's made in the Northwest from recycled materials, I can feel virtuous at the same time.

The neighborhood near 57th and Regal is turning into the Hill's new retail hotspot, and a veteran of the corner is Mirror Images boutique. Owners Christel Leeds and Christie Barker travel to trend and style shows in Seattle and Las Vegas to select clothing, jewelry, accessories and makeup products not found elsewhere in the area. "We like to get things that are different," says Leeds, things like beaded and sequined cigar-box purses from Prezzo (marked down to $16), and sweaters trimmed with feathers and metallics ($30 and up). My favorite for this time of year, though, is the CALIFORNIA SCARF ($15), a bundle of long yarns and ribbons in a confectionary m & eacute;lange of colors and textures. It will dress up a casual outfit and keep your friend's neck warm at the same time.

The newest addition to the South Hill retail scene is Artios, just opened in a brand new building on Grand near Lindaman's. I admire the wall of Vera Bradley quilted fabric bags, the oversized hand-painted martini glasses (in their own storage boxes), and the kitchenware collection from Culinary Institute of America -- not to mention the clean contemporary flair of furnishings by Nicole Miller. I spend way too much time ogling the selection of bath salts, French soaps, body lotions and candles ($6-$30) all made with pure essential oils.

But that's the gift I'll get for myself. Now I must be disciplined. So, I choose A SET OF FOUR WINE GLASSES from Luminarc ($25), bundled with a book: Wine Basics For Dummies, a 96-page introduction to the world of vintages and varietals. Not to imply that my friend is a dummy -- but we all need a little help to get past the intimidation factor surrounding wine.

Of course, I can't forget my feline roommates during the holidays, and right across the street I find Urban Canine. Despite the name, the shop carries a good selection of food, toys and accessories for cats as well as dogs. Henry's favorite toy from last year -- Dr. Noy's Swizzle Teaser, a flouncy "tail" with dangling feathers -- is still available, but this year I'm going for the PEEK-A-PRIZE TOY BOX from Smart Cat Toys ($30). Henry likes toys with a challenge, you see, and this wooden box with circular cutouts lets him hunt for prey-like toys that are partially hidden from view. This makes him happy. And when Henry is happy, everyone in the household is happy, too.


& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & here ought to be a name for that part of Division Street below the hill at Euclid Avenue, where it morphs into a couplet and shoots motorists into downtown Spokane. Hemmed in by the river and the hill, the area is unlike any other commercial sector in the city -- it's distinct, even, from North Division, with its sprawling parking lots, big-box stores and endless traffic lights. Massage parlors, forgotten Chinese restaurants, barbershops and that cluster of furniture stores -- that's what you find on Lower Division. And those aren't even the weirdest examples.

I started my Christmas shopping at the General Store -- partly because that old, clustered warehouse contains within its crowded, labyrinthine bowels nearly every product ever manufactured (for better and worse) and, specifically, because it advertised on its marquee the RAFFEL 12-VOLT HEATED AUTOMOTIVE SEAT CUSHION ($15), and I have a lady admirer with infamously poor circulation.

Of course, you never leave the General Store with just what you were looking for. You leave, as I did, with a new hat, a plastic organizer for your toolbox and a little bicycle bell. Which is actually pretty impressive. I spent nearly an hour in there, earbuds in and my iPod on shuffle (wandering through the fishing pole aisle, Paul McCartney suddenly sang, "Fly flies in/Fly flies out"). That I didn't leave with a rifle, a pair of hip waders and a new belt buckle is astonishing. More incredible is that I didn't end up wheeling myself out on the Hot Rod Super Wagon ($350), a kind of souped-up Radio Flyer with huge, knobby tires, a plush seat, mesh canopy, cooler rack and two locking metal storage bins underneath. I have no idea who that thing was marketed towards (kids? golfers? drug mules?), but I wanted it.

I left my car in the General Store parking lot and lighted out on foot, against the stream of one-way traffic on Division. As I headed for Glassroots, a smoking paraphernalia shop, I swear that iPod's shuffle gave me Bob Marley ("Turn Your Lights Down Low"). It was a sign. The shop, recently opened, is full of ornately blown and colored glass pipes (don't call them bongs), each unique. Some are a few mere inches long, some more than three feet tall. Along one wall is a temporary piercing and tattoo station, eventually to be replaced by a room they're building in back. There are hippie clothes here, and Magnum unisex urine kits. Against the wishes of the purveyor (who stressed that buying the glassware supports local artists), I picked out a hookah from their formidable collection. It's a starter model -- the DISCO PUMPKIN ($45), about a foot tall and with only one hose, for smoking tobacco or shisha. It lights up (thus, the "disco") -- a perfect accessory for the urban bachelor. Hookah bars are becoming increasingly trendy. Besides Azar's, this is about the only place in Spokane where you can join the fad. I also picked out packs of flavored shisha -- kiwi, frappuccino, and something called "After 9."

I headed past Joe Jean's, across the street to the Army surplus store, where all the merchandise is carefully disguised in shades of brown and grey. Among the camo gear and boots and nylon rope and netting and shooting targets with illustrations of Arabs on them, I found a huge wall tent that comes, mysteriously, with no poles ($360), a really cool, vaguely military handbag with a dire-looking "Poison" printed on it ($15) and an engrossing volume called THE ILLUSTRATED MANUAL OF SNIPER SKILLS ($20), which I read for about 15 minutes. (I learned which buildings to hide in and what kind of camo to wear when sniping in the rubble of destroyed cities.)

Vices seem readily available on Lower Division. That's another characteristic of the area, I think. After stopping in at Jim's Homebrew Supply (mini fruit press for only $120!), I passed Brock's Gunsmithing, and the first thing I saw when I stepped inside the White Elephant was a copy of Gun Digest. If I wanted to get wasted and shoot somebody, Lower Division is where I'd come to stock up.

Other than the adorable collection of Expo '74 memorabilia (posters, coasters, tea cups, saucers) and a toy Renault II from James Bond's A View to a Kill, I didn't find anything at the Elephant that I hadn't already seen at the General's, or at the surplus place. Plus, frankly, I was getting tired of looking at fishing poles and shotguns. And, really, nobody on my Christmas list had that killer instinct, anyway.

I walked outside. I was the only guy walking outside. Nobody walks on Lower Division. You're not supposed to. Cars swished by. It was cold. I was getting hungry. Bob Dylan was singing, "How does it feel to be on your own, with no direction home?"

That's when I found my favorite two gifts of the day: ACCORDION LESSONS at Accordia-Nova (various prices), a shop located (oddly) in the back of the Teamsters building; and, at Mountain Gear, a little eggplant-shaped APPLE CREEK TRAVEL GUITAR ($100).

After walking around for three hours, looking at guns, hooks, hookahs, camo, animal heads and ammo, the best present I could think of was music.

How does it feel? It feels like Lower Division. Thinking that you got it made, but your better lift your diamond ring. You better pawn it, babe.

Spokane Jewish Cultural Film Festival @ Gonzaga University Jepson Center

Through Feb. 5
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About The Authors

Luke Baumgarten

Luke Baumgarten is commentary contributor and former culture editor of the Inlander. He is a creative strategist at Seven2 and co-founder of Terrain.

Michael Bowen

Michael Bowen is a former senior writer for The Inlander and a respected local theater critic. He also covers literature, jazz and classical music, and art, among other things.

Ted S. McGregor Jr.

Ted S. McGregor, Jr. grew up in Spokane and attended Gonzaga Prep high school and the University of the Washington. While studying for his Master's in journalism at the University of Missouri, he completed a professional project on starting a weekly newspaper in Spokane. In 1993, he turned that project into reality...

Tammy Marshall

Tammy Marshall is a photographer and the calendar editor for The Inlander. She also produces video content for

Carrie Scozzaro

Carrie Scozzaro spent nearly half of her career serving public education in various roles, and the other half in creative work: visual art, marketing communications, graphic design, and freelance writing, including for publications throughout Idaho, Washington, and Montana.

Joel Smith

Joel Smith is the media editor for The Inlander. In that position, he manages and directs and edits all copy for the website, the newspaper and all other special publications. A former staff writer, he has reported on local and state politics, the environment, urban development and culture, Spokane's...