Written for MyCentralJersey.com
With only a few days left until Christmas, two distinct types of people are emerging — those who are sitting in their living rooms with a mug of hot chocolate as they got their holiday shopping done before Thanksgiving, and those who are left staring at a list full of gifts they still need to buy.
If you’re a Central Jerseyan whose last-minute shopping is becoming worrisome, you’re in luck. Downtown Somerville, an area historically known for its restaurants, has quickly become a retail town with 40 to 50 unique store options for holidays gifts.
“People are becoming more frustrated with how exhausting shopping at the mall is,” said Beth Anne Macdonald, executive director of the Downtown Somerville Alliance. “By shopping on Main Street, they’re not walking seven miles from the outermost parking space.”
Vince Baglivo, communications director of the Downtown Somerville Alliance, is a self-proclaimed last-minute shopper on a mission — his shopping is never random and he likes to give gifts that have meaning.
“If I can find six or seven stores within walking distance, that’s very helpful to me,” he said. “But anyone can get a mall gift — you can be a last-minute shopper, but it’s pretty cool when you can pull out a Christmas gift bag with all of these interesting items that have a backstory.”
For those looking for finer home gifts, shoppers can head to the Design Studio of Somerville, a holiday store that sells Christmas ornaments, home décor and candles. Crystal Palace is another option for finer gifts made of Swarovski Crystal and Waterford Crystal.
Shoppers looking for interesting apparel that can’t be found just anywhere can head to Melange for women’s clothing and accessories (offering free gift wrapping) and Evolve Clothing Gallery for men’s clothing and accessories.
Evolve Clothing Gallery, a “deliberately eclectic SoHo-feel shop,” said Baglivo, only sells limited styles in small collections, so customers can find items that they would never find in big-box stores.
Options for small home, kitchen and personal-care gifts includes those found at Three Hearts Home, which celebrates small craftsmen and artisans and sells items such as soaps, glasses and kitchen and writing utensils. Shoppers can also check out The Hive, a honey store that carries products made from honey, including hand creams, personal-care items and beeswax candles. Many of these items make for ideal stocking stuffers.
For those shopping for loved ones with less traditional tastes, you can head to Comic Fortress, which sells comics, collectibles and other quirky items, as well as Urban Chaos Smoke Shop, a vape and smoke shop.
To get a gift that will serve as an experience for the recipient, shoppers can also pick up restaurant gift cards from popular eateries such as Verve, a French-American bistro, Casa Luna, a popular Mexican restaurant, and Alfonso’s, a favorite for Italian cuisine and pizza, among many others.
“People are afraid to spend their own money on a new restaurant, but giving a gift certificates is a great way to offer the chance to try a great new place,” said Macdonald.
Paramount Pampering, a salon and spa that opened recently, is also offering holiday gift certificates for services including hair care, nail care, skin care and makeup application, some of which are included in pampering packages.
Besides finding items that venture outside the gift box, shoppers will find that when shopping in downtown Somerville, they can get information about the products they’re buying from shopkeepers that isn’t available from many mall employees, as most large stores employ seasonal workers who don’t know much about the products they’re selling.
“Small businesses are just as invested in your experience as you are,” said Baglivo. “They can’t run behind a corporate logo — the reviews and experience matter to them.”
Because of events such as Small Business Saturday, as well as more marketing efforts, shopping in downtown Somerville — rather than just grabbing a meal — has become more common.
Randy Pitts, curator of Evolve Clothing Gallery, said that in the past few months, he has noticed more people coming into his store with bags in their hands from other downtown Somerville shops.
“We have always been a restaurant town, but now we have retail, too,” he said.
Downtown Somerville shopping
Fine home gifts: Three Hearts Home at 87 W. Main St. for handmade items, From The Hive at 4 Division St. for products made from honey, Crystal Palace at 65 W. Main St. for fine crystal items, Discover Wine at 66 W. Main St. for fine wines
To check out all of the stores in downtown Somerville, head todowntownsomerville.com/visit/shopping.