The Alternative Gift Guide

    icon Dec 11, 2008
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Christmas season is upon us and since Thanksgiving Day newspapers have been weighed down by advertising inserts and special offers from national chains.  However, instead of rushing off to the latest door-buster deal, consider supporting independent stores and artists by buying directly from them, or turn to one of the tri-city's many local retailers to find a unique gift for that special friend, family member, or coworker.  Here are just a few places to check out.

Fairly new to Saginaw, A Girly Girl Boutique, located at 1214 Court Street, carries juniors and women's clothes, jewelry, and accessories.

The shop features clothing by New York and L.A.-based BB Dakota in addition to other designers.  There are also a number of festive dresses perfect for that holiday party or for toasting in the New Year.  The wide selection of jewelry comes from designers all over the world, including pieces by local jewelry makers.  There is also a selection of Rabuna Fi items ranging from $5 - $30.  These items are made by displaced women, many of whom have lost their families, in Sudan, Uganda, and Kenya.  All proceeds from these items go back to support Rabuna Fi.

In addition to offering high fashion at affordable prices, shop owner Debra Defoe offers the personal customer service that has long been gone from the mall and cookie cutter box stores.  It truly makes for a personal and unique shopping experience.  Check back often as you can find new items on the racks every one to two months, and the shop is planning to carry more women's and plus size clothing in the future.

Through the holidays, the store is open Tuesday – Saturday from 11am – 6pm.  You can also check out the shop online at

Another local retailer that specializes in personal customer service is Saginaw Township's Rumbleville Underground Clothing Company, located at 5880 State Street.  Rumbleville appeals to a rockabilly or West Coast car culture lifestyle, and carries everything from belts and suspenders to jewelry, shoes, handbags, postcards, magnets, dresses, patches, jackets, stickers, and so on.  They carry items from a number of American companies such as Lucky 13, Felon, and Paper Doll whose dresses are handmade in California.  Rumbleville also has a variety of shirts and hoodies screen-printed with their own brass knuckle logo, which is perhaps most recognizable due to the bouncers throughout the Old Town bar scene.  You can also find items by local artists as well as cds by local musicians.  Rumbleville has a second shop at Flint's music venue the Machine Shop.  Store hours in Saginaw are Tuesday and Wednesday 10am – 6pm, Thursday and Friday 12 – 8pm, and Saturday 12 – 5pm.  The Flint store is open whenever there are shows at the Machine Shop.  You can also check the shop out online at

Saginaw native and graphic designer, illustrator, and photographer, Dave Smith has a number of designs available as t-shirts or art prints at  The designs are playful and clever, mixing cultural icons with current pop culture references like the "Warholla at ya Boy" design featuring a blinged-out Andy Warhol with "Pop Life" tattooed across his chiseled abs, or the "Kissinger"

image which shows Henry Kissinger in full Gene Simmons face paint and gear.  Smith works in a hyper-contemporary realm of politics, fonts, music, video games, lolcats, and literary icons, employing fun designs and bright colors.  (In case anyone out there is looking to get me something, my personal favorite features James Baldwin and the quote "Baby, they gonna burn your house down.")

Books always make great gifts—there is something available for every age group and for every interest from Sudoku to restoring classic cars, baseball stats to classic literature, cook books to art books, and so on.  But before you go rushing off to the nearest Barnes and Noble, you may want to consider supporting an independent press or a local writer.

Based in Bay City, Mayapple Press is an indie press that specializes in contemporary literature with a strong focus on poetry.  In addition to poetry, you can see a wide range of works on the website (, including anthologies centered on Michigan and Michigan writers:  In Drought Time is a collection of poems and artwork about life in Michigan's rural and small towns, and With a Cherry on Top: Stories, Poems, Recipes & Fun Facts from Michigan Cherry Country features Michigan writers writing in various forms on Northern Michigan's cherry industry.

Instead of going through a press, you can often contact and purchase books from writers directly.  At his website,, Midland resident and Delta College Associate Professor, Jeff VandeZande has a special book offer for the holidays.  He has three works available: Into the Desperate Country: A Novel ($15), Emergency Stopping and Other Stories ($13), Poems New, Used, and Rebuilds ($15).

 All prices include shipping and he is more than happy to sign the books and even include a personal holiday greeting.  Send him an e-mail ( to make arrangements.

Based in Berkeley, CA, Small Press Distribution has been connecting readers with writers since 1969.  The non-profit literary arts organization distributes indie publications of poetry, fiction, and literary non-fiction.  On the website (, you can browse by genre or by category of study as well as view their latest bestsellers.  With a wide selection of book titles, magazines, and anthologies, you're sure to find something for the bookish person on your shopping list.

And what goes better with books than coffee?  Saginaw Township's Magic Bean, located at 5789 State Street, has a number of holiday gift items available.  Ranging from $5 and up, custom gift baskets, using coffees, teas, mugs, chocolates, cookies, and other items, are available.  The Magic Bean regularly stocks a number of gift items, such as a selection of Miam Miam mugs, and they also have brought in a number of home décor items for the holidays—angels, snowmen, Santas, two-foot wrought-iron trees, and holiday cds that come in a collectable tin.  Gift cards are available, and if you wish to send a gift to a business, the Magic Bean can create sweet trays or wrap sandwich trays.  For a truly unique gift, check out the artwork on the walls which is by area artists and is available for sale.  The Magic Bean is open Monday – Friday from 7am – 10pm, Saturday 8am – 10pm, and Sunday 9 am – 9pm.

Instead of turning to eBay for online purchases, check out which is a place for thousands of artists and designers to sell handmade items.  Full of do-it-yourself spirit, Etsy is a great place to find anything from woodworking to crochet, purses to housewares, clothing to dolls, furniture, pet items, and just about everything else you can think of.  It's easy to search, browse, and find that one-of-a-kind gift.

As an alternative to traditional gift-giving, you may want to consider donating a gift or money to charities.  There are many local charities and families that need help this time of year, as well as many business running food, coat, and toy drives.  To find out how you can help, you can contact organizations like the United Way, Salvation Army, and Toys for Tots.  Online, the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance has created an accredited charity directory which can be accessed by visiting, clicking on "For Charities and Donors," and selecting the resource library.

These are just a few of the many options that are available in the tri-cities and beyond.  Supporting local businesses, artists, and families in need is important.  But however you wish to spend this holiday season, be sure to be safe and make time for friends, family, and yourself.  Companionship and peace of mind can be greater than any gift.  Happy Holidays to all.

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