Ellen Hao

For a Lover of Handmade Essentials 

Absolutely Anything Essential Gift Shop

With over twenty vendors in one location, this market is your one-stop shop for all-natural or creatively handmade products including soy candles, organic soaps, fragrant body oils, books, greeting cards, gourmet treats, scarves, and much more. “Do-It-Yourself” classes fill its calendar, making the Bronzeville shop a hub for the natural and creative person in your life. (Oduda Maali) (Read our feature on Absolutely Anything Essential)

Absolutely Anything Essential, 3521 S. King Dr. Open Tuesday, noon–6pm; Wednesday–Friday, 11am–7pm; Saturday, 10am–6pm. (773) 406-7663. absolutelyanythingessential.com

For Your Spiritual Health

Culture Connection 360

This cornerstone of the Englewood community sells self-help books, health guides, and documentaries alongside all-natural beauty products, fragrant oils, home decor, vegan treats, and alkaline water—all in the name of a mission to meet the needs of the mind, body, and soul. (Oduda Maali)

Culture Connection 360, 400 W. 71st St. Open Monday–Saturday, 10am–7pm. (773) 527-6015. cultureconnection360.com

For Your Quirky T-shirt Needs

Hardscrabble Gift Shop

A staple of the Bridgeport community since 2012, Hardscrabble is your go-to shop for affordable and stylish artwork, home décor, and personalized t-shirts. Stop in and grab a new painting for your wall and print those friendship t-shirts you’ve been meaning to get your bestie for years. Hardscrabble also offers screen-printing on tote bags, sweatshirts, baby onesies, and more! Name it, and they can probably print on it. This is the spot for creative types looking to spice up their wardrobe and home. (Bridget Newsham)

Hardscrabble Gift Shop, 3335 S. Halsted St. Open Monday–Friday, 11am–7pm; Saturday, 10am–5pm; Sunday, 10am–3pm. (773) 696-9574. hardscrabblegifts.com

For the Hobbyist Thinking on a 1:87 Scale

Zientek’s Model Trains

Between the CTA and the Metra, Chicago makes begrudging transit fans out of most of us. Zientek’s, however, is quite literally on a different scale—the shop’s vast assortment of model trains escalates transit to something of an art form (and, for that matter, makes it purchasable at wholesale prices). It might cater to a niche audience, but for those with an interest in life and travel writ small, Zientek’s is not to be missed. (Christopher Good)

Zientek’s Model Trains, 2001 W. 18th St. Open Monday–Saturday, 11am–6pm. (312) 226-9720. sites.google.com/site/zienteksmodeltrains

Lizzie Smith
Lizzie Smith

For the Music Aficionado

Shady Rest Vintage & Vinyl

In 2008, Das Racist brought us the combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell. In 2016, Chicago natives and music enthusiasts Peter Kepha and Nuntida Sirisombatwattana brought us the combination record store and bric-a-brac boutique. Shady Rest, their store, has a healthy collection of wax, but plenty of other options: reel-to-reels, cassette decks, and even 8-tracks are common sights. As for the nonmusical? There’s a well-curated assortment of miscellany in regular rotation, ranging from furniture to signs to art prints. Sure, as a record store in Pilsen, Shady Rest might be another entry in a well-saturated market—but if you want to split the difference between crate-digging and interior decorating, then Shady Rest can meet high expectations with even higher fidelity. (Christopher Good)

Shady Rest & Vinyl, 1659 S. Throop St. Open Wednesday–Friday, 2pm–8pm; Saturday, 12pm–8pm; Sunday, 12pm–6pm. (872) 444-6488. shadyrestchicago.com

For Anyone With a Mark to Make


This Little Village-based gallery and studio specializes in prints of all kinds: lithography, relief, screen printing—you name it. The owners, Liz Born and Gabe Hoare, offer lessons and studio space for the artist who wants to try their hand at something new. For the art lover, there’s a shop of print editions for sale. No matter who’s on your list, hoof it over to this print shop this holiday season. (Corinne Butta)

Hoofprint, 2433 S. Oakley Ave. By appointment only; call before you visit. (773) 896-4326. hoofprintchicago.com

For the Family Philosopher

Frontline Books

This historic Hyde Park bookshop is sure to have something to capture the mind of any budding free thinker. They specialize in publications related to Pan-Africanism, metaphysics, self-help, health, and Rastafarian literature. To celebrate the season, Frontline is even releasing a new edition of The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey on December 16. Pick up a copy and enjoy a night of poetry, music, and unity while you’re at it. (Corinne Butta)

Frontline Books, 5206 S. Harper Ave. Book launch December 16, 5:30pm–8:30pm. Open Monday–Thursday, 10am–9pm; Friday and Saturday 10am–10pm; Sunday 11am–8pm. (773) 288-7718. frontlinebooksdistribution.com

Lizzie Smith
Lizzie Smith

For the Sweet Tooth

Chicago Creampuffs & Cakes

This Mt. Greenwood bakery, renowned for owner Emma Dearth’s cream puffs, turns into a community hub during the holiday season—on Tuesdays and Thursdays in the middle of December, the store, which moved into a new and bigger location last year, will double as an after-school camp for kids. For those feeling festive (perhaps a little prematurely), the bakery is hosting a gingerbread house–making event on December 11, though with sugar cookies instead of gingerbread. If you’re looking for a last-minute dessert, their ornately iced cakes are a real crowd-pleaser. (Christian Belanger)

Chicago Creampuffs & Cakes, 3458 W. 111th St. Wednesday–Friday, 11am–8pm; Saturday, 9am–8pm; Sunday, 2pm–8pm; Monday, 4pm–8pm; Tuesday, 11am–7pm. (773) 445-7833. facebook.com/chicagocreampuffandcakes

For your Greek God/Goddess

Alpha II Omega

One Facebook reviewer describes Alpha II Omega as the best Chicago location to find gifts for members of the “Divine Nine,” the nine black fraternities and sororities that make up the National Pan-Hellenic Council. The little all-purpose apparel shop also carries Masonic paraphernalia, along with jewelry and Tuskegee Airmen outfits. Nestled next to sweet potato hot spot Jimmy Jamm along 95th Street, the shop is easy to spot: a decal of the Masonic square and compass stuck to the front door is a dead giveaway. (Christian Belanger)

Alpha II Omega, 1838 W. 95th St. Thursday and Friday, 11am–7pm; Saturday, 10am–6pm. (773) 445-9044. alphaiiomega.vpweb.com

For the Mystical Jewelry-Wearer


Mashallah Ghouleh’s eponymous store just opened this fall in Pilsen; previously, the Bronzeville-based jeweler sold most of her pieces online. The pieces in her current autumn and winter collections are made of malachite, pyrite, and selenite. She also sells a number of non-seasonal earrings, necklaces, bracelets, and cuffs. According to the store’s website, each piece is influenced by the “metaphysical” properties of its gemstones, which are rooted in a deeper universal meaning. Visiting the physical location has one advantage over ordering online: local artists often showcase or sell their work in the store. (Christian Belanger)

Mashallah, 1747 S. Halsted Ave. #1. Tuesday–Saturday, 11am–9pm; Sunday, 11am–6pm. (312) 291-9889. mashallah.us

For Making Someone Green Without Envy

South Side Irish Imports

South Side Irish Imports has been dishing out Claddagh rings, Guinness gear, Celtic bears, Irish saints merchandise, Waterford crystal, South Side Irish t-shirts, and Irish policeman and firefighter t-shirts for about three decades. The 6,000-square-foot South Side store and the 3,000-square-foot suburban store were both “born out of our love for being Irish and our love of our heritage and neighborhood,” the owners say on the website. Merchandise includes engagement gifts like an “Irish Marriage Blessing Throw Rug,” Irish flags, leprechaun figurines, St. Patrick’s Day decorations, as well as Catholic items like rosaries, scapulars, and communion jewelry. And there are of course itchy wool sweaters and wool caps if you’re looking to hew to Irish stereotypes. (Joseph S. Pete)

South Side Irish Imports, 3446 W. 111th St., or 7725 W. 159th St. in Tinley Park. Monday–Friday, 10am–7:30pm; Saturday, 10am–5pm; Sunday, 11am–4pm. southsideirishgifts.com

For the Bowling Enthusiast in Your Life

Andy’s Pro Shop Bowling

Andy’s Pro Shop Bowling isn’t exactly America’s pastime, but those who like it, love it, and they probably also love gift-getters who know what they’re about. This since-1956 shop is the perfect place to turn to get new shoes, or maybe a new ball, or, uh, something related to bowling for that special cousin or friend who’s always talking about bowling. The staff seems to love the game as well, is beloved in the bowling community, and is sure to be able to help you pick out the best equipment even if you still need to use bumpers when you go to the alley. Hell, maybe they even sell bumpers.  (Jake Bittle)

Andy’s Pro Shop, 6358 S. Pulaski Ave. Monday–Wednesday, 11am–5pm; Thursday, 11am–8pm; Friday 11am–5pm; Saturday, 10am–5pm. (773) 581-6363. andysproshop.com

Lizzie Smith
Lizzie Smith

For Your Honey

The Hive

Has the buzz about beekeeping stung you yet? Get supplies to become your block’s foremost apiarist at The Hive, which describes itself as Chicago’s first beekeeping supply store. Located in North Lawndale, visitors can buy everything from hive frames to beekeeping reference books to—you guessed it—honey. In addition to outfitting established beekeepers, The Hive hosts workshops for bee-ginners and works to advocate for bees, local ecology, and sustainable agriculture across Chicagoland. If you’re looking for a sweet gift with a citywide impact, The Hive is the place to find it: be sure to inquire about their CSA, which, for $100, will get you five pounds of honey twice a year and exclusive access to events, classes, and new products. (Emily Lipstein)

The Hive: Chicago’s Beekeeping Supplies Store, 3414 W. Roosevelt Rd. Wednesday and Thursday, 10am–5pm; Saturday and Sunday, 10am–3pm. Closed Monday, Tuesday, Friday. (312) 995-9508. thehivesupply.com

For the Lover of Spiritual Goods

Botánica Caridad del Cobre

If you find yourself or a loved one in need of a home purification or a demon exorcism (or just a bit of positive energy) this holiday season, head to the botánica. This Santeria store boasts the requisite wide selection of candles, mists, and oils for any imaginable wish or ailment, but its strength is in its Catholic statuary. This is a one-stop shop for your rosaries, and Virgin, saint, and (baby and adult) Jesus statuettes. If your personal brand of spiritualism doesn’t include explicitly religious iconography, that’s okay too. Caridad del Cobre also stocks a millennial (I mean, perennial) favorite: Himalayan salt crystal lamps. (Kylie Zane)

Botánica Caridad del Cobre, 4072 W. 26th St. Monday–Friday, 10am–6pm; Saturday, 10am–4pm. (773) 277-2313.

Lizzie Smith
Lizzie Smith

For Gifts of Reuse and Renewal

Encore Resale Clothing

This small (some say tiny) resale clothing shop on the northern side of Hyde Park holds a wide selection of reasonably priced clothing and accessories for men, women, and children without feeling overwhelming or packed. You’re likely to find something you couldn’t find anywhere else, and if that’s not enough, know that your gift-buying does an extra amount of good because Encore is a nonprofit that puts its proceeds into community renewal efforts. (Carrie Smith)

Encore Resale Clothing, 1553 E. Hyde Park Blvd. Monday–Saturday, 10am–6pm. (773) 324-1111.

For Literally Everything Not Otherwise Specified

Unique Thrift Store

On a budget? Need a gift for that person who already has everything? Look no further than Unique. With outposts in Bridgeport and Gage Park, these expansive “thrift superstores” collect donations and sell gently used clothing, housewares, accessories, and more, plus a section of seasonal merchandise. Though you’ll have to invest some time and elbow grease to sift through Unique’s sheer volume of stuff, you’re sure to find the perfect purse for your mom or novelty hot glass for your roommate. Keep an eye out for special discounts and promotions, too: seniors get thirty percent off every Tuesday. (Juliet Eldred)

Unique Halsted, 3000 S. Halsted Ave. Monday, 6am–9pm; Tuesday–Saturday, 9am–9pm; Sunday, 10am–7pm. (312) 842-0942.

Unique Kedzie, 5040 S. Kedzie Ave. Monday, 6am–9pm; Tuesday–Saturday, 9am–9pm; Sunday, 10am–7pm. (773) 434-4886.

For Next Year

University Church Resale Shop

On the first weekend of every month, Hyde Park’s University Church puts out a bowl of popcorn and fills its entryway with trinkets, doodads, knickknacks, and—if you dig deep enough—genuinely useful stuff. The Resale Shop’s well-loved inventory and nickel-and-dime prices feel like a sanctuary from our mass-produced, profit-driven consumer culture. Whether you arrive looking for stocking stuffers or a new wardrobe, you might end up leaving with such unique finds as “3 Rocks in a Box” (exactly what it sounds like, and only $1!). Make sure to go downstairs for quaint glassware and vintage kids’ toys. This month’s sale has already passed, but Christmas decorations will be half-off in January. Best of all, since the shop is run by volunteers and everything here is donated, the gifts you buy give back—all proceeds go to UChurch. (Baci Weiler)

University Church, 5655 S. University Ave. First weekend of every month: Friday, 10am–5pm; Saturday, 10am–3pm. Donations appreciated. (773) 363-8142. universitychurchchicago.org

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Book and Gift Drives for Incarcerated Youth and Women

A number of organizations are having book and gift drives for women and youth in jail across Illinois this holiday season. Check below for details; all organizations have an Amazon registry that they either recommend or require that you donate to. (Christian Belanger)

Gifts from Incarcerated Moms to their Kids: ship gifts c/o Toy Drive, 140 N. Ashland Ave. Registry at amzn.to/2h0Hmsi and for more information, email holly.krig@gmail.com.

Chicago Books to Women in Prison: ship books to 4511 N. Hermitage Ave. Registry at amzn.to/2hbvmos

Liberation Library Youth Book Drive: ship books to 2040 N. Milwaukee Ave, 2nd fl. Donations tax-deductible. Registry at amzn.to/2gZCCk8 and for more information, visit liberationlib.com

Isaac Ray Center Youth Book Drive: ship books to 1100 S. Hamilton Ave., Taylor or Roosevelt St. Dock. (312) 433-5936. chaka.holley@cookcountyil.gov. Registry at amzn.to/2g3zF0c and for more information, visit isaacraycenterinc.org

Solorio DREAM Scholarship Drive

The DREAM team at Gage Park’s Solorio Academy high school is holding their fourth annual scholarship drive to raise money for scholarships that go to undocumented students graduating from Solorio. Over the previous three years, the scholarship drive has raised $11,000, helping sixteen students cover the cost of college. (Christian Belanger)

Donate at gofundme.com/soloriodreams

Ronald Johnson Memorial Toy Drive and Help the Homeless Effort

Ronald Johnson was shot to death by a CPD officer in October 2014. Beginning last year, his family started an annual toy drive for the students at Stagg Elementary, the school Johnson’s five daughters attend. In addition to physical drop-off locations, there are also online donations. Johnson’s daughters, naming themselves “Team Do Too Much,” have also started a fundraising campaign to purchase clothes for Chicago’s homeless people in preparation for the winter. (Christian Belanger)

Toy Drop-off Locations: American Friends Service Committee, 637 S. Dearborn St, 3rd floor.; University Church Chicago, 5655 S. University Ave.; Women & Children First Bookstore, 5233 N. Clark. St. Donations with be made or dropped off by December 16. Online donations at amzn.to/2grCE6n.

Donate to the Team Do Too Much fundraising drive at bit.ly/2gJDf3m

Annual Christmas Feast for the Homeless and Elderly

Led by South Side activist and pastor Michael L. Pfleger, the faith community of St. Sabina plans to distribute hundreds of meals to homeless and elderly residents. In the past, they’ve doled out more than 800 turkeys. This year, they’re seeking donations from time to toiletries to turkey. (Christine Schmidt)

St. Sabina Academy, Bethune Hall, 7801 S. Throop St. Sunday, December 25, noon–2pm.

Toy Sorting, Food Distribution, and Bell Ringing

The Salvation Army’s Englewood location is looking for Angel Tree toy sorters, holiday food box distributors, and red kettle bell ringers this holiday season. Find volunteer opportunities online by looking for other Salvation Army locations in the Chicagoland area. (Kristin Lin)

Adele and Robert Stern Red Shield Center, 845 W. 69th St. (773) 358-3252. centralusa.salvationarmy.org

Greater Chicago Food Depository

Unload, restock, sort, repeat: Greater Chicago Food Depository offers volunteer opportunities at their member soup kitchens and shelters across Chicago. South Side locations include Chatham-Avalon Ministries, Word of Truth, and Canaan MBC Pantry. (Kristin Lin)

Greater Chicago Food Depository, 4100 W. Ann Lurie Pl. (773) 247-3663. chicagosfoodbank.org

Children’s Home + Aid Holiday Gift Drive

This holiday season, Children’s Home + Aid is a wish-granting factory. The organization manages a gift drive where donors contribute gifts from wish lists created by children in programs run by Children’s Home + Aid. Sign up online to get matched with a child. (Kristin Lin)

Children’s Home + Aid, 125 S. Wacker Dr. (312) 424-0200. childrenshomeandaid.org

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