Years ago, I worked right in the heart of Collingswood’s Haddon Avenue and instantly fell in love with its fusion of artsy city charm and that small-town intimacy of a main street that had something for everyone. I loved using my hour-long lunch break to wander the town I adopted as my daytime home for five years.
But Christmas time was always a little extra magical, and my lunch breaks were always a little more well-used during the season of endless strings of lights winding their way along Haddon Avenue, carolers warming the chilly air and decorations adding festive sparkle and flair for blocks. So when a number of old friends started moving to Collingswood this past year, I was excited for the convenient excuse to play tour-guide for them and Santa for my holiday-shopping recipients.
Of course, the pandemic forced friendships and businesses to double down on connecting digitally, with Zoom calls replacing girls’ outings and business owners harnessing the power of a virtual storefront more than ever. While many shops have found ways to safely operate their brick-and-mortar locations, those of us who err on the side of extreme caution are more than happy to curl up with a steaming mug, fire up the video chat, and go shopping together from the comfort of our own homes and on our own schedules.
A Virtual Vinyl Store for Virtually Any Taste
So many of my friendships were built on a foundation of sharing favorite bands and discovering new songs to sing along to with the windows down and volume up. Those after-school hours of painstakingly rifling through row after row of CDs in search of some obscure indie gem got a 21st-century upgrade via the virtual home of vinyl haven Inner Groove Records, a much-lauded treasure trove of new and used records ranging from perennial classics to contemporary favorites.
Literally thousands of LPs, from the virtual bargain bin to collectors’ crown jewels, are waiting to be snatched up and wrapped up as the perfect music-lover’s gift. The record your parents fell in love to and have practically worn a hole in from decades of nostalgic replays? The album your best friend loves so much they had to introduce you to it, too? The reissue your spouse has been looking everywhere for? They’re all assuredly here, and a few five-dollar finds that you just can’t leave unpurchased will only sweeten the deal.
Inner Groove also has oodles of goodies for the audiophiles in your life who’ve been angling to up their accessory game or have been hinting that a lovingly curated record collection deserves to be played on an equally impressive turntable. While Inner Groove’s online presence showcases its variety of options and includes detailed specs differentiating each record player from the others, this is one gift that’s worth mulling over in person. Staffed by folks who love vinyl just as much as its loyal regulars do, Inner Groove is eager to lend an expert’s opinion to make deciding on a record player that much more foolproof.
Check it out for yourself by visiting innergrooverecords.com and clicking or tapping the “Shop Online” button. The user-friendly interface allows for searching by price, genre, year, condition, format and more. With nearly 3,000 titles appealing to every taste and budget (collector’s items are understandably in the triple digits, if someone on your list has been extra good this year), the treasures you find at Inner Groove will be music to your favorite vinyl-lover’s ears.
Treasures and Tchotchkes Both Vintage and In-Vogue
Cindy Schreiber was stocking Clutter’s collection of vintage, handmade and upcycled items with small animal figurines well before Martha Stewart popularized the diminutive statues and made them one of the hottest and hardest-to-find home-decor and gifting trends of the past year.
“I used to have a lot more little brass animals like owls or pigs, but then Martha Stewart did a feature on them and now everyone is coming in asking for these brass figurines,” she said — laughingly adding that she sold them well before the home-making maven caught onto their charm.
Early in the pandemic, Schreiber ramped up Clutter’s Instagram presence (@cluttervintageshop) to bring her wares to a digital audience that coped with shelter-in-place orders by shopping online and sprucing up their homes to keep the cabin fever at bay.
“Everything I was posting was selling, and people got into the habit of buying online,” she said. “But I really want people to come in because I have hundreds and hundreds of smaller items throughout the store, and I can’t post all of those!”
From vintage bar items to holiday decorations to pottery to “a million items that are $5 each or very affordable deals,” there are plenty of budget-friendly options that will get browsers in the holiday mood as they whittle down their shopping lists for the vintage-lovers in their lives.
Clutter’s website (cluttervintage.com) lists store hours, pandemic policy and contact information, but it also serves as a hub for its social media presences. Shop online, or browse Schreiber’s wares so you can drop in and pick up the items that’d be perfect for your sister who loves vintage decor, or to add to your mother-in-law’s collection of vintage cookie tins, or to grab some old-time holiday decorations for that friend who starts playing Christmas carols in August.
Deck the Walls — and Everything Else
Pay close attention to the “plus” in Arts Plus Gallery’s name, because this gallery proves that art is for all kinds of budgets, tastes and purposes. This isn’t some uptight, fussily curated showroom: This is where art has come to life since 1978.
There’s pottery. There’s jewelry. There’s home decor. There’s handbags. Some items are dreamy, whimsical updates to once-utilitarian home goods like clocks and pillows and light-switch plates. Some are traditional metal-and-gem rings or statement necklaces with eye-catching glass baubles. Some are wooden signs engraved as reminders of meaningful mantras or painted to celebrate a special place. As vastly different as every piece is, they’re all handmade treasures an array of artists have imbued with just as much individual personality as you’ll find in the friends and family on your shopping list.
But for older family members or friends who’ve shared in decades of memories, the photo restoration experts at Arts Plus are ready to give the gift of precious memories. They can repair well-loved photographic treasures that bear the rips, chips, creases and fading of the passage of time, restoring a moment in time to its former glory. Beyond repairs, they can even reproduce and resize photos if you want a professionally retouched image to share with more than one person — and you can bet that Arts Plus has the perfect frame to showcase your one-of-a-kind gift, too.
Go ahead and explore the staggering amount of artist-made treasures Arts Gallery Plus is waiting for you to discover. You’ll find pages and pages of something for everyone at artsplusgallery.com, as well as its ever-evolving Haddon Avenue location.
More Than Black-Tie Attire
While it’s sad to see that a handful of my old favorites have since closed their doors, I was heartened to find out that Marlene’s Dress Shop is still going strong despite weddings, proms and black-tie holiday parties being put on pause throughout 2020 — though plenty of brides-to-be are finding their dream dresses at Marlene’s despite the nightmare of delayed ceremonies and uncertain venue occupancies and operations.
I learned years ago that Marlene’s is more than eye-catching formalwear and uniquely stunning dresses guaranteed to make anyone the belle of the ball. And after months of loungewear and PJs slowly evolving into everyday attire, accessories like pretty shoes, fancy clutches and enviable jewelry are a little more fanciful and special than they’ve been in years past, pretty promises that special occasions or just dressing up and going out with friends will make their comeback.
Marlene’s gives online shopping an immersive interpretation, throwing open its store doors with a socially distanced, 360-degree virtual tour. Oooooh and aaaaah over pieces that are so color-coordinated it almost feels wrong to leave half of the bonded pair behind. A statement-piece coral necklace complements a turquoise handbag so perfectly you can easily see your fashionista bestie rocking them both on your first dressed-up girls’ date in months; necklace and earring pairs are so expertly matched that they’re an easy screenshot to send as a subtle suggestion to spouses and significant others looking for the perfect gift, too.
Check out Marlene’s Dress Shop at marlenesdressshop.com, or drop in and let one of the store’s experts decide which bangle bracelets your accessory-obsessed favorites will wear every chance they get. Either way, you’ll find out why Marlene’s has been a favorite of South Jersey shoppers with an eye for the tastefully timeless and trendily on-point alike since 1983.
Sweets for the Sweet
If your nearest and dearest have visions of sugar plums dancing through their heads all year ‘round, a visit to The Candy Jar by 1892 is a must.
Paula Alban loves helping shoppers find the perfect gift at the store’s Haddon Avenue and Bordentown locations. The self-proclaimed sweetest spot in town specializes in carrying the candies of yesteryear, and Alban is delighted by watching grandparents and parents share a favorite sweet treat from their childhood with the next generation. More modern palates can also find Hershey’s mainstays, sea-salt caramels, candy cigarettes, Necco wafers and more.
Shoppers are invited to mix and match to create one-of-a-kind gifts hand-selected for a special someone. In addition to old-time offerings, modern favorites and handmade goodies like chocolate-dipped pretzels, The Candy Jar also offers sugar-free options, as well as nut-free and gluten-free goodies for sweet-lovers with allergies to sink their sweet tooth into.
One of the most unique finds, though, is reimagining the Italian Christmas dinner tradition of The Feast of the Seven Fishes with Swedish Fish, inspired by Alban’s Italian husband and in-laws.
“It’s been a hit since we created it about two years ago,” Alban said. “We make seven different kinds, with white, milk and dark chocolate and decorated with things like nonpareils. Everyone goes crazy for those.”
The Candy Jar’s Collingswood shop is open every day, and its website thecandyjarby1892.com is chock-full of inspiration for assembling the perfect gift for that someone you’re a little sweet on all year.