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What are the go-to shops for the holidays?
First published December 2021.
We’re bravely going where we’ve only gone once before in these drafts—to a non-food category!
This time around we’re drafting places to get gifts for the holidays because we’re extremely organized and prepared for once in our lives.
Between this and our massive neighbourhood gift guide, you really have zero excuses for the Christmas Eve scramble that we both know you’re going to subject yourself to anyhow.
But first, a look back at our last draft, french fries.
READ MORE: Our Editors Draft the Best French Fries in Vancouver
Well, would you look at that. It’s Alyssa, with her first-ever editors’ draft win! How far she’s come from selecting Uncle Fatih’s second overall in the pizza draft. Let’s see if she’s really discovered the winning formula or if it was just a one-off.
As always, we put our editors’ names into a random draft simulator (snake style, obviously) and off we went. Here are the results and the reasoning behind each pick.
So here’s the thing—I’m not really a patron of “gift” stores. The raison d’etre—that you have someone with superlative taste curating a selection of stuff—never grabbed me because I’m so, so involved that I always prefer my own curation (notwithstanding I appear to be an army of one in this regard). But even a self-booster can lose himself in the near perfection of the objects at Provide. Everything—from Quake furniture to Konzuk candles—feels like something I would choose if I had a store of my own. And unlike, say, Atkinson’s, which is stocked with lovely but pricey goods, the prices at Provide always seem eminently fair. In fact, I have so much admiration for this spot that I chose it #1 overall knowing full well that it would break Anicka’s heart… but I had to be me. Unfortunately.
The anger directed at me by the rest of the editorial team when I announced this as my pick was palpable through the computer screen. Obviously, I have won the draft. I don’t throw around the phrase “one-stop shop” lightly, but the expertly curated Main Street general store is just that. I can snake through the aisles and snag Swell bottles for my brother and his husband, an artisanal jigsaw puzzle for mom, gourmet peanuts for grandpa, adorable Vancouver-made teething rings for my best friend’s new baby and a treat-yourself candle for me. The great gifts to square footage ratio here is undeniable. The only thing I won’t find on the shelves is a crown for me, the new Editors’ Draft champion: my colleagues will have to figure out where to source that on their own.
Much & Little is one of those shops you can go into with nothing specific in mind, and still come out with an amazing, personal gift. They have a gorgeous collection of homewares, hyper-specific games that are perfect for parties and curated clothing that you’re pretty much guaranteed won’t already be in their closet. I bought my sister’s Christmas present here last week—a snarky little game called The Loser Game that I couldn’t resist. (I am pretty confident she won’t read this, but if she does I guess the loser is me. So I win?)
Walrus is my go-to for gifts any time of year, but it’s guaranteed to be on my agenda during holiday shopping. The owners Caroline Boquist and Daniel Kozlowski are huge boosters of the local design community—Caroline hosts PechaKucha—and they’ll tell you the story behind every perfectly curated piece in their shop. They stock a combination of local brands like Obakki, lovely ceramics and hand-made items, and cult-favourites like Menu. Plus, I usually grab a pair of Stance socks for me, to reward myself for my excellent taste while holiday shopping.
Yeah, I knew I was getting Gatley here and I was even more stoked about it when no one else at the table knew what it was. These high falutin individuals wouldn’t dare come to the dregs of Commercial Drive. And as such, they’re missing out on what’s arguably the best gift experience in town.
This place is literally teeming with handcrafted local goods and the owner Erin Mullaly has an eye for the best of the best. Socks, jams, cards, crayons. The options are endless and all very cute.
READ MORE: The Commercial Drive Holiday Gift Guide
If you know me, you knew I wasn’t leaving this draft without some kind of craft beer nod. Is Brewery Creek expensive? Sure. Does it also have the best selection per square foot of any store in town? Definitely.
Very few places in the city make me feel like I’m right back in a Blockbuster, imploring me to get lost in the aisles. So it’s an absolute testament to its quality and depth that Brewery Creek can do it in a beer section that’s only a little bit bigger than my old Mount Pleasant bedroom. If your giftee is even a little bit interested in beer (or any other kind of alcohol), you will find something they like here.
Though I will say—the absolute best holiday-related items at Brewery Creek are the beer advent calendars. Call it an early Xmas gift.
Neal snaked me on Provide, so I was happy to scoop Alyssa for Bird on a Wire. They were always my first stop on a South Main shopping day, and now that they’re in Kits, they’ve become stop-one for a Broadway stroll too. It’s one of those lovely shops you’re guaranteed to find something for the difficult people on my list: a balance of quirky and cute items with lovely local ceramics and artists—like the excellent A Cagey Bee—as well as preserves, teas, t-shirts, cards… honestly I’ve never left this shop without buying something, holiday season or not.
As noted above I was pretty choked Anicka stole Bird on a Wire from me, but looking back it was pretty inappropriate to yell the F word when she did. Anyway. I love Bird on a Wire. But Pulpfiction is a totally different beast: the Broadway location (my PF of choice) isn’t large by any means, but I could spend hours browsing the shelves. New releases? They got ’em. Local authors? Check. Indie comic books? Not a ton, but it’s quality over quantity, and again, they deliver. They also seem to employ the best kind of retail workers: super friendly, super helpful, but super willing to leave you alone while you scan cover after cover.
Some heathens on the call joked that with this pick, I was sentencing everyone on my gift list to a loose bag of liquid detergent for Christmas, but little do they know the bounty that Soap Dispensary has to offer the eco-conscious gift-giver. In addition to its bulk refill service, the shop carries a variety of super useful (and often beautifully designed) reusable containers and tools that make for excellent one-size-fits-all presents. Pretty glass bottles with colourful silicon bottoms (like the one from Crew Bottle Co. that made our Main Street Gift Guide), I-didn’t-know-that-existed silicon Q-tips, sturdy reusable Rockwell razors. Plus, there’s obviously soap galore (and not just the bulk variety), which makes for the perfect add-on for anyone with, well, skin.
I have almost two dozen taxidermied puffer fish to attest to how much I love Stepback. My wife got me one three years back and ever since, when owners Chris Switzer and Robin Muxlow get another one in, they give me a call and I add to my spiky group of friends. Chris is in the band Mystery Machine and has toured with Radiohead as a sound tech in the past, so I’m very comfortable subbing his views for mine as to what is cool. He liked old school maps before anyone else did. As a rule, gift stores have a proclivity to skew twee. Stepback is the anti-twee.
For a bookstore to make this list, it has to have a selection that sneaks up and makes you buy something you hadn’t planned on. Any place—hell, every place—has Crossroads in stock, but McLeod’s is where you’ll go in for something like Crossroads and you’ll come out with a book on the portraiture of Joshua Reynolds, a first-person account of the Battle of Trafalgar and a re-issue of Appointment in Samarra from the 1950s. And isn’t that way better?
Like many of the other editors of VanMag, I also work for our sister publication, Western Living… which means that I have developed a firm belief (or have been brainwashed?) that everyone’s life would be improved by having a more organized and beautiful home. So yeah, I picked a store dedicated to “modern utility” as one of my favourite gift shops and, yeah, I’d be proud to wrap up beautiful linen laundry hampers or Japanese accessory boxes for anyone—man, woman, child—on my list. They’ll all be thanking me when they look around their now-tidy, magazine-photo-shoot-ready homes.
No hard feelings to the consignment store half of this Main Street haunt, but I’m really in it for the gift shop. There’s a weird amount of Schitt’s Creek-themed paraphernalia in here (no complaints) plus quirky greeting cards, candles, fun socks, and lots of stuff for folks who make the breed of their dog their entire personality. When I go in with friends, we’re often yelling from corner to corner: “Come here. You won’t believe this.”
How much do I exploring Paper-Ya on a rainy weekend? So much. (And so do my fellow editors, apparently, who were devastated not to grab this one for their pick.) It’s tucked into the Net Loft on Granville Island, which is pretty rich with gift-shopping opportunities in general, but Paper-Ya is the top gem in the bunch. To be honest I’ve only stared in wonder at the sheets of gorgeous Japanese papers that is their specialty—oh to have the talent do something lovely with them—but the shop is also made for anyone who loves the tactile world of paper and writing. You’ll find great journals, pens, books, cards and more in this camp, along with gadgets, toys and quirky one-of-a-kind items.
I may have let out an audible sigh when Anicka took Paper-Ya, as I harkened back to the days of finishing work on Granville Island and standing in the huge (even pre-COVID) lines to get in.
But like Gatley, Jackson’s is another East Side gem that I knew none of the other editors would know about. Their bad—this place is stacked from floor to ceiling with cool, decidedly Vancouver-y gifts. You don’t go here looking for a certain item. You go with an understanding of who the people you’re shopping for are and then Jackson’s presents you with a thousand possibilities, from East Van t-shirts to hot sauces. You’ll feel like a very hungry bull in the china shop that is Jackson’s, but take your time—you’ll find something.
If you don’t like board games, we probably wouldn’t be friends. And to all my current friends that don’t like board games, you’re on thin ice.
Strategies is one of the best equipped board game stores in town, and the staff is very patient and helpful. If you know even a little bit about what the person you’re buying for likes in a game, they can and will help you out. The store is always stocked with the latest in geek, so you know you’re in good hands.
Kidsbooks is the definition of why we need indie bookstores. When I come each year to grab books for my niece and nephew, all I need to do is tell one of the staff their ages, a few of their likes, and they’ll pick THE MOST PEFECT book. Truly. The books become the kids’ obsession going forward, and then they want to read everything said author has written. It was here that I learned about Oliver Jeffers 10 years ago. And fI am forever grateful to the Kidsbooks staff member who put Up and Down in my hands, for every moment I got to read those unbelievably heartwarming and tender books to my nephew. Great non-book kids’ gifts here too.
Here’s a hot take: this store’s name isn’t doing it any favours in the holiday shopping department. It kind of sounds like I’m recommending getting stocking stuffers at Home Depot. That said, I recognize that it’s literally 100 years old and they clearly know what they’re doing. The thing is, Kerrisdale Lumber has an absolutely stunning home decor section. Pretty plates, catch-all trays, funky tea towels, you name it. There’s also a great assortment of barbecue accessories, which are a very stereotypical Gift for Dad that I absolutely take advantage of. When two friends of mine upgraded from a basement suite to a house (a rental, don’t be crazy) this is the store I got them a gift card for.
When you walk into a shop and add everything you see to your own wish list: that’s a winner. I’ve found a good rule of thumb for shopping in recent years is to buy other people you want anyways so yes please, I’ll fill my basket with bergamot and eucalyptus body wash, chunky speckled mugs, colourful linen napkins and then sort out who gets what later.
Everything at Filson is cool. Every. Single. Thing. It almost never goes on sale, so you have no concerns about seeing the coat you bought a week before for 35 percent off and the designs change very slowly—I still wear my father’s Double Mackinaw cruiser from several decades back and it looks identical to the current model. The company was founded in Seattle in 1897 to outfit the brave souls heading up to the Yukon Gold Rush and their motto, “Might as well have the best,” is as true today as it was then.
This one is an antidote to the suggestion that I focus of price too much, because no one goes to Andrea Molnar’s South Granville boutique looking for steals. But if I want to get my wife something nice, that will both be contemporary and timeless and is crafted my a designer (like Dries Van Noten or Sacai to name but two) who cares about material and process—this is where I go. And the homewares adjunct operates on the same principle—well made goods that blend design with craftsmanship.
My mother-in-law buys me six-foot-long spaghetti from Bosa every year and it’s honestly my favourite Christmas tradition. I’m happy to follow in her footsteps with Italian imports for everyone’s stockings. Smoked castelvatrano olives and straight-from-Florence pesto for all! It’s a Christmas miracle!
READ MORE: Grocery Stores That Make You Feel Like You’ve Gone On a Trip Abroad
READ MORE: Grocery Stores That Make You Feel Like You’ve Gone On a Trip Abroad
I wouldn’t be me without a Richmond pick, and honestly, if it wasn’t for the crazy politics of this high-stakes editors’ draft, I would have chosen Scout & Co. first. But because my fellow editors are all afraid of bridges or something, I knew I could save this gem for last. Scout & Co. is the best gift shop out there. They’ve got your standard candles and cosmetics and cards, sure, but there’s also cool vintage stuff, tons of goods made by local artists and giftable classics with a snarky twist (see above). Non-Richmonders, beware: there is a very healthy amount of Steveston-themed goods. That’s a plus for me—it’s fun to have a little obnoxious hometown pride.
As a Westender, it’s the Denman Street location that’s my local, but I think the Gastown is the original. Owner Kim Briscoe also gave us all a gift during peak pandemic when she had artists paint the hoarding that covered her shop in Gastown, inspiring a city-wide trend. Her shops are for known custom-framing, yes, but they’re also packed with quirky and often-hilarious gifts. I’ve got a 1000-piece feminist puzzle in mind for someone on my list, and I’ve already purchased one of their great Schitt’s Creek cards, which proudly states, I Love the Schitt Out of You.
Okay fine, I went corporate with a pick. Thankfully, the name change hasn’t meant much change to the actual store. Will we ever stop complaining that we got jobbed out of our share of the co-op? Of course not. But you’ll almost always find something cool or fun or useful for the sporting enthusiast in your life at MEC. And remember, for some absolute nutbars, there is legitimately no such thing as too much bike gear.
Neal: Provide, Step Back, MacLeod’s Books, Filson, Bacci’s
Stacey: Welk’s, Soap Dispensary, Room in Order, Nineteen Ten, Bosa Foods
Alyssa: Much & Little, Pulp Fiction, Front and Company, Kerrisdale Lumber, Scout & Co
Anicka: Walrus, Bird on a Wire, Paper-Ya, Kidsbooks, Kimprints
Nathan: Gatley, Brewery Creek, Jackson’s General, Strategies, MEC