Have you noticed that old is the new “new”? Many of the latest trends (knitting, burlesque, Americana music, bicycles, even handlebar mustaches) reach into the past—perhaps in search of something unique and authentic that defies blah, generic modernity.
That very same blah, generic modernity is polluting our holidays with shiny new toys off a corporate assembly line.
If you really want to authenticize your holiday season, challenge the conventional stereotype—by embracing the “old” and buying used gifts this year. After all, a good used gift usually takes more thought, is much more unique and can pack way more value than a new gift. And don’t even get us started on the environmental aspects of used giving—so much less waste. This December, we’re drawing your attention to some secondhand Tucson shops that help bring the old-school charm back to gift-giving.
Since we admit there are times when a used gift isn’t the best choice (and we’re not just talking underwear), we’re including stores with brand-new merchandise, too—but only unique, independently owned stores.
Copper Country Antiques
5055 E. Speedway Blvd.
For anyone who thinks, “The newer, the better,” we have one thing to say: antiques.
Like wine, cheese and George Clooney, antiques get better with age. And like vintage clothing, they’re perfect gifts, because they’re each infused with history that makes them almost tangibly special.
If you want antiques, Copper Country will give you antiques—freaking thousands of them. This store is actually a mini-mall, housing booths for almost 200 dealers, selling such a large variety of items that no gift guide could ever mention them all. But we’ll list a few.
The most incredible antiques here are, of course, expensive—including myriad gorgeous old furniture items and even a $12,000 4-foot iron pony encrusted with real turquoise from head to tail. But there’s lots of cool cheap stuff, too, like ancient handmade stuffed animals and dolls (about $18), awesome way-pre-digital-age cameras ($30 and up), a vintage alarm clock ($25) and a large selection of old buttons for people who like crafts ($1 each).
Other gift options available when we visited included a 50-piece antique flowered-dish set ($120), a hand-painted Mexican-style cabinet ($235) and a real 1937 Ohio license plate (you know, for that friend who really likes Ohio, $75).
How Sweet It Was
419 N. Fourth Ave.
Vintage clothes prove how great giving used items can be—they’re never generic and always cool.
Fourth Avenue’s How Sweet It Was understands this. The store has been open since 1974 and carries some of the coolest old threads in the city, sought after by historic re-enactors, play actors, Halloween-costume seekers, dress-up-playing 10-year-olds and plain-old hipsters.
If you know your giftee’s size and style, it won’t take long for you to find something perfectly fitting. From authentic ‘80s concert T-shirts (Social Distortion ringer, $15) to ‘20s formal wear (pink flapper dress, $88) to shelves and shelves of cowboy boots (about $24 to $68), this store’s merchandise is well organized by type and/or era. Want a zoot suit? There’s a rack for that. A Western shirt? There’s a rack. How about a denim or leather jacket? There are several racks for those.
If you need an easy present, head to the accessories counter, where you can find hats, jewelry, gloves and more. Store co-owner Krissy suggests a handbag ($15 to $25) containing vintage jewelry as a gift any girl would love, while sharp-looking males love hand-painted ‘40s ties (prices vary) and antique cufflinks ($6.95 to $9.95). Of course, there are lots of awesome ‘50s eyeglasses ($8 to $24)—can you think of a more thoughtful gift than vintage frames outfitted with your loved one’s prescription?
5 Points Bikes
702 S. Stone Ave.
Bicycles are great holiday gifts for kids. But bicycles for grown-ups are a little more expensive—and a bike is such a sizable gift that no reasonable person receiving one would bat an eye if it weren’t brand-new. So go ahead: Buy used, and get more bike for your buck.
5 Points Bikes will help you, but be warned: It’s not a flashy place. This unapologetically unpretentious shop is more about selling and servicing bikes than about looking snazzy—and that’s fine, since some of the bikes being sold are snazzy-looking enough, like a beautifully restored antique Western Flyer cruiser ($500) or a near-new red Specialized racing road bike ($800).
Then there are the used low-rider bikes, which this store specializes in—a blue specimen tricked out with chain-link accessories will provide that bicyclist gangsta look for just $350. Or if you want to trick out an existing bike, 5 Points has lots of accessories for very reasonable prices, like a fluorescent-pink kid’s-bike saddle ($12), an “I ♥ my bike” bell ($4) and a bike rack ($39). The store also has quality U-locks for about $30.
Adult bikes start at about $40 for fixer-uppers and average somewhere around $150; kids’ bikes are mostly $25 to $40.
If the owner, Silas O., seems less than effusive at first, give him a chance: He’s quiet, but he knows bikes. His old shop was robbed and burned down in 2005, so it’s kind of a Christmas miracle that Five Points is back on its feet.
Sweet Repeats Children’s Resale Boutique
7936 N. Oracle Road
Ah, youth—the best time to start teaching a person that it’s cool to give and receive secondhand gifts. And what better way to do that than with toys?
Sweet Repeats has plenty of those, especially for younger kids—like the Bright Starts play mat with mirrors and mobiles ($34.99) for babies; every toddler’s dream come true, the Little Tikes Ride-On car ($18.99); or the educational (but still fun) LeapFrog gaming system for preschoolers ($24.99). Sweet Repeats also has some big-kid toys, like a Tomy racecar set ($30.99). The only thing the kids on your list might miss with a gift from this store is all of the packaging (which brings you the perfect opportunity to teach them about the evils of too much packaging). And Sweet Repeats has even more children’s clothing than toys—clothing for boys, girls, babies, toddlers, you name it.
This store is also a great resource for moms and dads (and moms and dads to be), offering parenting and maternity amenities. Is your husband always plopping your crying baby in front of the TV? Get him a Baby Einstein Exersaucer ($49.99) to plop the child in instead—a sure way to entertain that kid for hours.
Casa de los Niños Super Thrift Store
1302 E. Prince Road
With every gift you buy at the Casa de los Niños thrift store, you’ll be giving two gifts at once—one, of course, to the person you’re buying for, and one to the people aided by the organization behind this shop.
Founded by a nun in 1973, the nonprofit Casa de los Niños runs a variety of programs to help abused, neglected and at-risk children—and the dollars you spend at the store help fund those programs.
And yes, though it’s a thrift store, this place has some pretty cool (and very nicely priced) gift items. If you’re buying a small gift for a laid-back, quirky friend, get something fun like a ceramic teddy-bear toothbrush holder ($1.50), a 3-foot-tall Dale Earnhardt poster complete with plastic covering ($1.50) or a cool leather motorcycle hat (hats start at a buck!).
If you need something nice, there are plenty of posh pieces, like crystal wine glasses ($10 each), original oil paintings (prices vary) and a gorgeous silver ring inset with a huge green stone ($60). (“We have the best donors,” bragged one employee.) Lots of merchandise here is still in the original package, like a “Fluffy Stuff” crafts kit for girls who want to make furry fashion accessories ($4) and a pair of sterling silver earrings by Natural Creations (several options, $25 to $38). Or there’s merch that looks like it just came out of the package, like one of this store’s many collectible china dolls ($3 for a small one). And if you like to deck the halls on the cheap, all holiday stuff is half-price, from artificial Christmas trees to ornaments to a string of vintage Santa Claus lights that still work ($1.50)
Whether or not you hit the gift-buying jackpot here, you can still get that seasonal warm-and-fuzzy feeling if you stop by the store’s resident Holiday Wish Tree, which is hung with ornaments listing items that local children need. To fulfill one of these kid’s holiday wishes—a jacket in good condition, a pair of shoes, a teddy bear—just buy it and bring it to the Casa de los Niños folks. You can even buy it at the thrift store.
3050 E. Broadway Blvd.
With certain people, a used gift will automatically provoke a condescending “ew.” This isn’t anyone’s fault; it’s just how some folks are raised. And the holidays are no time to impose your values.
If your giftee is anti-used-gifts and happens to be a young woman, we can almost guarantee you’ll win her heart at Avenue Boutique, which caters to the “fashion-forward female” by carrying clothes, accessories and other stuff by the coolest high-end designers and local artisans. Top-selling brands include Dolce Vita, MinkPink, Gestuz, Blank and Myne; the store’s favorite designers include Thomas Paul and Rebecca Minkoff. And, yes, most of this stuff is pretty spendy—a Myne army chiffon button-down blouse goes for $159, while Blank jeans and cargo pants are $75 and up.
One of the coolest things in the store, a pair of earrings made of dangling quartz and shark teeth dipped in gold (by local artist Laura Kepner-Adney), will run you $240—but the recipient of that gift will love you forever.
Avenue also offers plenty of great mid-priced gift items, from eco-friendly scented soy candles ($18) to canvas cosmetic bags printed with vintage designs ($25) to Tidal Ware stud earrings made out of pretty minerals ($30).
The Rustic Candle Company
324 N. Fourth Ave.
We’ve all scratched our heads over what to give that one impossible-to-buy-for person—and then we think, “Thank God for candles.”
There’s no shame in it—who doesn’t like candles? And there’s still a way to mold this wax gift into something unique and very special: the Rustic Candle Company. Though this store has a few other gifts (scented oils, handmade soap, locally made fused-glass nightlights), it specializes in candles of all shapes and sizes, from big pillars that burn for hundreds of hours (prices vary, but a 225-hour burner is $16.99) to tiny mood candles ($1) offered according to the feeling you want to ignite. (Optimism? Growth? Passion?) Round out a candle gift by including a holder, like one with a wine-bottle base and a hand-forged iron top ($18).
A hard-core candle-lover would savor unwrapping a 5-foot-tall, 95-hour-burning “mini-round” candle in the “spa waters” scent ($32), while a garden-party-lover would be thrilled with an iron flower-shaped candle holder you can stick in the ground ($28). And that zealous vegan on your list can’t complain about on a candle made out of non-bee-exploiting recycled beeswax ($5 to $15).
Oh, and this goes without saying ... but please don’t give anyone a used candle. Just don’t.
400 N. Toole Ave.
Edible items are some of the best gifts you can give, and if you’re shopping for consumers of consumables, you’re best off heading to this cheerful, high-class little market in the heart of downtown.
Many of its food offerings are local, but they run the gamut: Wrapable foods include yogurt-covered pecans from the Green Valley Pecan Company ($7.99), Tohono O’odham heirloom tepary beans ($6.99) and jars of Queen Creek olives ($9.95). If you’re looking for food for a party, head to the refrigerated section for something like the handmade membrillo quince paste ($6.99) or Bravo Farms premium white cheddar cheese (prices vary). Coffee also makes a great gift; the most popular at Maynards is, predictably, the locally roasted Maynards boxcar blend ($8 for a half-pound, or $13 for a pound).
Then there’s the booze. This market has a whole wall devoted to wine (more than 100 varieties), and it’s all good (picked out by a pro named Lars) but reasonably priced. If you want white, try the Gryphus sauvignon blanc ($20); you can get a decent Castillo de Monseran red for just $11. One of the most expensive wines we saw was still just $52: a delicious (and highly intoxicating) USB Zinfandel dessert wine. If you’re in a beer-drinking crowd, head to the back of the store for a 12-pack of Fat Tire ($18) or even Pabst ($9.99).
To make the most of your Maynards Market experience, get some non-edible gifts, too—the store has lots of beautiful local gift items, from handmade mugs by Arizona artist Donna Osborn to Red Rock Ranch lavender mist body spray ($7.50). And don’t forget to check out the Hanukkah stuff in the center aisle: Plastic dreidels with gelt inside are $2.99.
Govinda’s Gift Shop
711 E. Blacklidge Drive
Ironically, the types of people who’d most love a gift from this non-secondhand store—a little Hare Krishna gift shop stationed at Govinda’s Natural Foods Buffet—would not have qualms with getting a secondhand gift for the holidays. In fact, they’d probably be happy with no gift at all, since material possessions get in the way of self-realization. And they might not even be commemorating this holiday season—because they’ve just finished celebrating Diwali and/or are waiting for Maha Shivaratri.
Still, even those seeking ultimate unity with the cosmic spirit can appreciate the ephemeral pleasures of this samsara world—like an elephant-embroidered silk bag from Thailand ($6.99), a colorful door- or wall-hanging (about $17 to $20), a cloth-bound journal with a camel on it ($7.99) or pretty Indian bindis ($1.99 a pack; we’re told they’re very popular with young girls). This store also has great jewelry for great prices—like, $12.99 for sterling sliver earrings from Bali.
Most of this store’s merchandise is meant to support one’s spiritual journey, whether it be through sacred beads to wear ($10 to $16), incense to burn ($1.99 to $2.99), real Ganges water for all-purpose purification ($10), a 2-foot Buddha statue to meditate near ($299) or a natural-foods cookbook (prices vary).
We should also mention that the gift shop smells delicious, since it adjoins the restaurant—which may make you want to buy a buffet gift certificate, too.
605 E. Wetmore Road
5045 E. Speedway Blvd.
Outdoor gear is great to get secondhand in certain circumstances—like when you inherit that kerosene camping lantern from your grandma, or your uncle gave you his bad-ass Swiss Army knife. But for safety and hygiene reasons, used rock-climbing equipment, water bottles and sleeping bags may not make great gifts.
So when you’re buying for an outdoor-lover, head to Summit Hut, which is locally owned and dedicated to protecting the outdoors its customers enjoy (even helping local nonprofits like the Sky Island Alliance and Tucson Audubon Society).
Summit Hut has all kinds of outdoor clothing, for winter (like the North Face men’s nuptse down jacket, $199) and summer (like Columbia Sportswear’s women’s Brewha II shorts, $29.95) alike. It even carries the latest trend in outdoor footwear—those weird-looking running shoes that mold to each of your toes (a pair of Vibram FiveFingers men’s shoes go for $75). There are also more tents, tarps, backpacks, hydration packs and GPS systems than you can shake a trekking pole at.
Our favorite product here (besides hiking gear for your dog) is “Suddenly Snow”—a package of crystals that expand into real-feeling snow when you add water ($4.99 a bag). Very handy if you can’t make it to Mount Lemmon.
NEW AND USED GIFTS
The Folk Shop
2525 N. Campbell Ave.
Some people like secondhand musical instruments for a variety of reasons: They’re already broken in; you get more for your money; and, hey, maybe you can channel the talents of their previous owners.
Others would rather have something new—and who can blame a guy who’s been nice all year for coveting a brand-spanking-new instrument? Plus, some people want instruments that are pretty hard to find secondhand.
The Folk Shop caters to all of the above desires by carrying both new and used merchandise. One instrument that folks at the store advise you to buy new is the ukulele, since you can get a really good new beginner’s model for only about $40 to $50. (Co-owner Brenda Hendrickson personally loves this instrument, since “it’s hard to play a sad song on a ukulele.”) Another recommended new item is the Native American flute ($39 and up), since it comes in many different keys, and you have to decide on the perfect key for each person.
As for rare instruments, the Folk Shop carries lots of new stuff that you’re not likely to find used (and don’t even try Craigslist), like the harmonium ($350) and the didgeridoo ($21). Finally, you might as well buy some brand-new stocking-stuffers here, since they’re cheap: Kazoos and shakers start at $1.25, while instrument-shaped tree ornaments and lapel pins are $5 and up.
Most everything else at the Folk Shop, Hendrickson acknowledges, is a better value used (even zithers, which she says are surprisingly common secondhand, starting at $20). Used acoustic guitars start at about $285 ($400-plus new); new and used banjos start at $100—but you can get a better used-banjo-to-dollar ratio.
6208 E. Speedway Blvd.
As with musical instruments, books are sometimes better used—like when you want a first edition, something out of print or something with character (and affordability). But you can’t get the very latest titles secondhand—and it’s just so sinfully satisfying to crack open a brand-new paperback. So Mostly Books carries new and used titles—a lot of them.
This store sells more used books than new, possibly because used books are such a value—here, they start at just $2 and usually fall within the $4 to $15 range, hardbacks included. Most used books are priced at half their cover price, even if they’re in really nice condition. The biggest used sellers are romance and mystery—though the store has books in every genre, covering (almost) every topic.
As far as new books go, Mostly Books makes a point to carry the latest releases. What’s hot right now? Staff members called out Jonathan Franzen’s literary novel Freedom, a poignant, political and hilarious suburban-family saga ($28, hardback), as well as Bill Bryson’s At Home: A Short History of Private Life—which is just what its title proclaims ($28.95, hardback). Another good seller is Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo ($7.95, paperback).
Then there are the rare books—Mostly Books carries many of those, including some first-edition Harry Potter books (about $70) and even an extremely hard-to-find misprint of Stephenie Meyer’s Breaking Dawn, whose cover oddly displays no title. Although it’s never been read, we’d classify that particular book as secondhand—and it’ll run you $2,000.
There’s a “used” gift we dare anyone to scoff at.