Austin holiday gift guide 2020: Love thy neighbor, shop local
Our neighbors need our help.
The coronavirus pandemic has put a chokehold on small businesses all across the U.S., with many forced to close for good. So, while we would always support shopping local, it’s more important than ever this holiday season, especially as consumers might not be out and about at stores as much.
While this is not a definitive guide, we came up with a few ideas for how you can pump some love into the Austin community, with a special emphasis on the hard-hit music industry. And remember: If the budget won’t allow shopping, a great gift doesn’t need to cost much or anything, especially this year. Has the thought ever counted more?
Don’t forget about a couple of local businesses we’ve profiled this year.
Black Pearl Books: Katrina Brooks, founder of this local bookseller, talked to us earlier this year about how she was inundated with online orders amid the nationwide surge in support for Black-owned businesses. There won’t be any shipping delays at Black Pearl Books’ newly opened physical location at 4803 Burnet Road inside Ten Thousand Villages. They’re open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Friday and by appointment on the weekends. But you can still order new reads for your loved ones online, too.
Little Gay Shop: East Austin’s compact home for all things LGBTQ stocks art, apparel, books, magazines and more from queer artists. Pick up a stocking stuffer, like a “Lone Star Queer” patch ($8) that echoes your favorite Texas beer, or any number of enamel pins. If reading material is more your gift-getter’s speed, Little Gay Shop’s got some great titles; we recommend “Here For It,” a hilarious essay collection by R. Eric Thomas ($26). Shop online, stop by from noon to 6 p.m. Monday-Friday or make an appointment during the week.
—Eric Webb, Austin360 editor
Tell ’em a friend of a friend sent you
A personal recommendation from a friend is worth more to me than any advertising or marketing. I hit up my group texts for a few local goods and services that get the seal of approval. So, if you don’t believe your dedicated local newspaper, believe its friends.
Park and Bark Mobile Grooming: There are some things you need to do during the pandemic that feel particularly fraught: the necessary errands that you put off until you can’t any longer. Like keeping Fido’s fur in good shape, let’s say. (It’s not the dog’s fault that so many people refuse to wear masks.) A friend who got a new dog in lockdown — a schnoodle named Penny, if you must know — has been using Selene Cuellar’s Park and Bark, a social-distanced mobile grooming service. Their self-contained set-up comes to you, so no worries for your gift recipient about venturing out into the world. Packages run $65-$95, with add-ons available, and you can get a gift card.
La Otra Flora: Give the gift of a garden to the person you live with. Two different pals, within seconds of each other, recommended La Otra Flora, a local horticulture consultation service. Whether you need help plotting out your flower bed, don’t know what seasonal blooms to pick or want to create your own flower design from ground to cutting, La Otra Flor owner Laura Ruiz Brennand has you covered. A general consultation runs $75, and a custom cut flower design goes for $250, but openings are limited.
Poco a Poco: This Austin-based boutique is "dedicated to the empowerment of our Latinx community, supporting people of color, and dismantling white supremacy & misogyny,“ according to the mission statement on their website. They sell a variety of gift items, including a “Star Wars”-inspired “Me Rebelo“ design available on everything from a mug ($28) to a racer-back shirt ($34); a paper picado-style ”Poco a Poco“ design that you can get on a poster ($12) or notebook ($15); and a large temporary tattoo of a bruja on a bike ($28). Prices include shipping. (mercadopocoapoco.com)
Soul Popped: Can’t leave off without a treat. One of the first recommendations I got was for this soul food-inspired popcorn. Their storefront is closed during the pandemic, but you can still order online, from flavors like Austin Smoke BBQ, Heavenly Macaroni & Cheese, the Real Dill Sour Pickle and more. (soulpopped.com)
You can still wrap an envelope
In normal years, I tend to worry that a gift card is a phoned-in gift. Mostly, I pride myself on my wrapping jobs. But, hey, not a normal year. The past eight months, I’ve made a real effort to channel my spare dollars toward places I know need a little extra help weathering the storm. So, let’s talk gift cards, tickets and contributions — the kind of things that provide a financial boost to local businesses right away.
Obviously, that means restaurants, for starters. With the dining landscape navigating uncertain terrain, send some business to your favorite local eatery. A few of my regular takeout spots, if you need inspo (I’m really telling on my dietary habits here): Taco Joint, Cenote, Better Half, Magnolia Cafe, Frazier’s Long & Low, Maudie’s, Xian Sushi & Noodles and Mi Madre’s.
You also might consider gifting a membership to a local cultural organization. Austin Film Society has kept its physical cinema closed since March, and a gift membership gets you a T-shirt or a cap. Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center keeps our city beautiful, and we’ve all gotten better acquainted with the outdoors this year. The Contemporary Austin, Blanton Museum of Art and Mexic-Arte Museum are making art available during the pandemic. Don’t forget about Austin’s NPR station, KUT. Of course, if you wanted to give someone a subscription to the city’s daily newspaper, the American-Statesman, no one here would complain.
And doing good is always the move, even if you don’t get anything material out of it. Search for a nonprofit organization at amplifyatx.org and make a donation in your loved one’s name.
» FROM 2019:The Austin360 Christmas stocking stuffer guide
The Live Music Capital of the World needs your help. Give it as a gift.
“Keep Living, Don’t Die” from Jonathan “Chaka” Mahone: At the time of his death in 2018, Richard Overton was 112 and the oldest man in America. Honored for his military service in World War II and celebrated for his supercentenarian status, the cigar-smoking, whiskey-drinking Austinite had become a national figure. Comedian Steve Harvey once asked him what the secret to his longevity was and Overton replied, “Keep living, don’t die.”
To help Overton’s family raise money for home health expenses in the final year of his life, Jonathan “Chaka” Mahone, an accomplished visual artist and half of the husband/wife hip-hop group Riders Against the Storm, put the pithy but profound quip on a T-shirt.
With the blessing of the Overton family, Mahone added the design to his NefrFreshr collection this year. “In these incredible challenging and uncertain times, his simple message rings truer than ever,” Mahone said.
The design is available on a unisex T-shirt ($25), a scoop-neck ladies tee or crop top ($30 each) or a hoodie ($45). To add a little inspiration from an ancestor to your home office you can also get it on a throw pillow ($30) or coffee mug ($15).
Asleep at the Wheel 50th anniversary gear: Grand public celebrations to honor the golden anniversary of Austin’s kings of Western swing were waylaid by the pandemic, but Austin’s storied television show “Austin City Limits” brought the band into our homes for a special episode, “50 Years of Asleep at the Wheel: A Retrospective.”
Surprise the classic cowboy or girl on your list with a bandanna ($15) featuring armadillo-themed 50th anniversary art by Will Hatch Crosby. A variation of the design is available on a T-shirt ($25) and there’s also a cool anniversary baseball tee ($30), Dickies shirt ($48) and trucker cap ($25). Can’t decide what to grab? How about the 50th anniversary bundle that includes a cap, a tee and koozie ($50).
Antone’s: Austin’s Home of the Blues has all the gear you need to outfit your favorite blues fan from head to toe in the spirit of old Austin. During normal times you’d be able to peruse the club’s signature merch line along with posters, memorabilia and more at the club’s adjacent gift shop, Big Henry’s. Head over to the virtual version of the shop to scoop the iconic Antone’s logo on a standard T-shirt ($25), a ball cap ($20) or a baby bib ($15). We’re particularly fond of the “Antone’s ‘75” jersey shirt ($25), which features a retro design with a groovy ‘75 emblazoned on the back. If you want to go all in on your Antone’s look, check out the coveralls ($125), which feature the club’s logo on the chest pocket and across the back. Still not enough Antone’s in your life? You can pick up a logo mug ($9.24), a pint glass ($4.62) or a harmonica ($5). The store also sells a sizable selection of show posters ($15-$25), buttons ($5.54 for a three-pack), guitar picks ($4.62 for five) and much more.
Continental Club and C-Boy’s Heart & Soul: With over two dozen T-shirt designs in stock ($27 each), South Austin stronghold the Continental Club and sister venue C-Boy’s Heart & Soul have one of the most robust merch shops in the city. Want to express your Austin music pride with a guitar? A hot rod? A cow? They got you. We’re particularly fond of their “Defend South Austin designs” emblazoned with lightning bolts and skulls that sneer at the gentrification that’s transformed 78704 over the last 20 years. In addition to tees, they have an assortment of trucker caps ($20), lapel pins ($12) and screen-printed posters ($30-$50). While the clubs are closed, Continental Club owner Steve Wertheimer has opted to donate 100% of profits from merch sales to his employees.
Hip-Hop Grew Up by Bavu Blakes: “Hip Hop Grew Up is about how the hip-hop generation leverages its resources for today's generation,” Bavu Blakes said in late April. It’s a philosophy that the O.G. Austin rapper turned educator has spun into a business. Built around the work of Blakes and fellow scholar emcee, Charles "Easy Lee" Peters (Third Root), the Hip Hop Grew Up brand is an umbrella that covers an educational consulting and public speaking business, a podcast, a Facebook group, a clothing line and most recently a new book, “El’s Mirror,” written by Blakes and his 9-year-old son. ($12.97-$19.97)
You can pick up a logo tee ($25), a hoodie ($50) or a pack of 12 stickers ($5) for the grown and sexy hip-hopper in your life. The hoodies are also available in larger youth sizes, for old school hip-hop heads looking to pass the rap ethos of yesteryear on to the next generation.
Black Pumas: This year’s deluxe double vinyl edition of the red-hot rock & soul band’s debut album sold out as soon as it dropped, but you can still celebrate Austin’s Grammy-nominated breakout act this holiday season. The band’s website is well-stocked with several Pumas T-shirt designs ($25-$30), tank tops ($25), hats ($30), sweatshirts and sweatpants ($40-$45) and more.
Deborah Sengupta Stith, music writer
Rock that mask
Keep your neighbors safe and announce your fandom with custom face masks from Austin artists and music businesses.
Willie Nelson: Salute a local legend with the country crooner’s name emblazoned over several designs ($10.99), from an American flag to classic song titles to the state of Texas. Block off some time to peruse the Red Headed Stranger’s extensive merch collection that includes everything from tees and tanks to a cornhole set and a dart board.
“Austin City Limits”: With artists playing to an almost empty concert hall, it was a strange and surreal season for the longest running music television show in history, but the season was marked by great performances, including a star-making turn from Austin blues standout Jackie Venson. Wear your love for the Austin institution with a simple logo mask in grey or black ($10). While you’re on the web site, you can also grab posters from this season’s shows.
Ghost Wolves: The husband/wife garage rock duo were on tour in Italy as that country went into lockdown. When they returned home, guitarist and fashion designer Carly Wolf began making masks to donate to first responders. Now the band carries a wide variety of face coverings with designs like “witchy stars” and “Western pinup” ($16). You also can subsidize one of the Wolves’ ongoing mask donations for $10.
Kady Rain: Austin’s pop princess just updated her merch site with space cats, obscene peaches and assorted candy-colored accouterments, including face coverings for $15.99-$16.99.
Hotel Vegas: Block droplets and keep the spirit of East Austin garage rock alive with a cool black mask with a cactus motif ($11).
Turns out there are some new things under the sun, at least in local retail. The vast Music Lane complex, newly if partially opened on South Congress Avenue, hosts dozens of shops, eateries and drinkeries, along with a hotel and plenty of office space. It’s like Second Street on steroids, or the Domain on a diet. Most of it can’t be seen from the street, but one big store pops out there: Neighborhood Goods.
Founded in Plano, it intends to be part of a “new wave of department stores.” For South Congress, it is enormous at 10,000 square feet. Pristine and high-ceilinged, it essentially rents out shelf space to companies, including a dozen or so local ones, many which have been hitherto online only. It also includes a large, chic circular bar where one can order food, coffee and adult beverages. Wandering around the store, one can find apparel, pet accessories, beauty products, kids gear, books, phone chargers, greeting cards and backpacks, among a wealth of gift possibilities.
Among the Austin brands are Kinn Home (tableware and more), Branch Basics (nontoxic cleaners), Disco (men’s skincare) and Raven and Lily (bags, jewelry, more).
“Everything will keep changing,” says manager Lauren Hunt. “We take brand suggestions online. We also encourage customers to shop with the vendors directly online.”
In the store, displays of local products are clearly identified. Neighborhood Goods is currently operating at 75% capacity and masks are required, except when a guest is seated and eating. (Laptoppers have already discovered the spot.) In a sense, because it offers fresh public spaces, along with food, drinks and plenty of shopping, it’s like the whole Music Lane complex distilled into one store.
Michael Barnes, history and arts writer