Those who know: Diehard Clevelanders share tips on how to find those unique local gifts

Guest column

Growing up in Shaker Heights, Bishara Addison was taught to make service a core part of her life. While working in Boston, she decided she needed to devote her energies to her hometown and moved back here. She works for a workforce development organization called Towards Employment and is a graduate fellow at Georgetown University through the National Urban Fellows. This guest column demonstrates her belief in the importance of giving back.

We take for granted how lucky we are to live in a city with so many assets, so during the holidays, I try to give gifts that elevate the gems we have in Greater Cleveland. A few ways to do that are to shop local, gift experiences, and make donations in a loved one’s name to a worthy cause. With so many great options in Cleveland, it’s hard to nail down a few, but here are my favorite groups this year to support or buy gifts from:

Gift Cleveland Experiences

Karamu House

This venerable playhouse in Cleveland’s Fairfax neighborhood just so happens to be the country’s oldest African-American theater. A great gift option could be a subscription to four of their mainstage shows in the 2019-2020 season for $120. You choose the dates and can change them if needed. They are also embarking on a special giving campaign while Karamu is under renovation. You can have your name, a loved one’s name, or a business name inscribed on a walkway stone. Customized pavers will be a part of their Phase 3 renovations, near the front for all to see. This great gift will last a lifetime and support a theater that produces great shows and provides important community programming.

Cleveland Orchestra

We literally have one of the best orchestras in the world in our backyard. While home, the orchestra divides its time between Cleveland’s Severance Hall and summers at Blossom Music Center. Subscription packages include a great gift for a family: their Lawn Ticket Books, a flexible, affordable way to enjoy their summer concert series at Blossom. A lawn book buys 10 tickets that you can use in any combination for Blossom Music Festival performances, plus two Pavilion upgrade coupons, for $155, and young people 18 and under are free.

Cooking Classes with Chef Eric Wells

Born and raised in Cleveland, Chef Eric offers cooking classes at a local community development corporation, Burten Bell Carr Development. For $35 a person, you can learn culinary techniques and methods to create an awesome meal in a fun and festive atmosphere. This is a great gift for singles, couples, or groups of friends. Themed classes range from seafood to southern classics as well as vegetarian options. Classes are at CornUcopia Place, a community facility built by Burten Bell Carr that provides nutrition education and cooking demonstrations. Sign up for classes here.

Support Local Businesses

Suds Brewing Co.

If you need great stocking stuffers, the Brews Brothers have you covered. Just about everyone in my family knows they are getting soap for Christmas. I happen to know these young gentlemen (so I’m a little biased) but I also love the soap they make. Noah and Giles Foster started Suds Brewing Co. in 2016. They use natural oils, grains and locally brewed beer as ingredients. They convert brewery waste (beer and spent grains) to craft luxurious soap. Why beer? Beer includes hops, which has anti-inflammatory properties and can help soothe and calm irritated skin.

Cleveland Urban Winery

My friends know I love white wine. One of my favorites happens to be from the CLE Urban Winery. They have a fruit-infused white wine, the Hometown Heroes Peach Chardonnay, that I always get there. They are in the Cedar-Lee neighborhood of Cleveland Heights. They don’t have a vineyard, but their wines are hand-crafted and bottled on-site in their craft brewery-style winery, made from premium juice sourced primarily from the West Coast, and branded to celebrate the city of Cleveland. Any of their wines would make a great gift.

Blank Canvas CLE

If you love Cleveland sports and artwork, a great spot for gifts is Blank Canvas CLE in Cleveland Heights. This art gallery promotes and showcases the work of local artists. Many of their items (for purchase) include portraits of our best Cleveland athletes, like Odell Beckham Jr., or coasters highlighting our sports teams. They also do custom framing for pictures and paint and sip parties.

New Agrarian Center and City Fresh

I first learned of this organization through another great group, Social Venture Partners Cleveland, where they were a grantee. They work to build a healthy, sustainable and socially just local food system in Northeast Ohio by providing food shares and recipes through City Fresh in food desert communities at a sliding scale. More than 400,000 people living in Cuyahoga and Lorain counties reside in “food deserts” with few dietary options other than convenience stores and fast-food chains. The shares themselves make great gifts, but by purchasing shares through the center, you are also subsidizing shares for someone who can’t afford to pay the full price.

Cleveland Candle Co.

At their three shops, you can buy pre-made candles or  “make-your-own-scent.” The shops include a "candle bar” to create custom scents, with guidance from in-house candlemakers. They also have classes and special events where you can invite friends for paint and sip nights, and make your own lip balm (great stocking stuffers) or bath bombs.

Cleveland Independent Decks

If you’re a foodie, you can’t go wrong with the card decks from Cleveland Independents, a consortium of more than 80 locally owned and operated restaurants. This deck offers discounts at 49 different restaurants. Savings range from $10 to $30 on food purchases.  

Olive Cleveland

This family-owned company sells extra virgin olive oils and balsamic vinegar. It only carries products from small family farms across the Mediterranean. Find them at the West Side Market.

Loganberry Bookstore

Although many have turned to online shopping for books, locally owned bookstores are still a destination. This independently owned and operated bookstore is in the historic Larchmere neighborhood. They carry new, used and rare books in all genres. This is a great place for a gift for book lovers.

Support a cause in someone’s name

We all have enough stuff. A great gift is to make a contribution in someone’s name. My dad started doing this instead of buying gifts, donating to organizations that mean a lot to that individual. For a few years, my gifts to my dad were donations in his name to the Urban Scholarship Fund at Ohio University, where he is an alum. They were working to permanently endow that scholarship (I think they have since reached their goal this year) so that one minority student every year will get a full ride. This work was important to my dad, so the best gift was supporting the Ohio Ebony Bobcat Network, where he was giving a lot of his time.  Other great organizations deserving of recognition are:

Birthing Beautiful Communities

This nonprofit connects birth workers or doulas to women at highest risk for infant mortality during the perinatal period. These workers provide holistic support for pregnant women to deliver full-term healthy babies, and in achieving equitable birth outcomes. They offer neighborhood-based services include childbirth and parenting education with workshops and classes on breastfeeding, stress relief, bonding with baby, co-parenting and healthy eating. They also offer perinatal training to provide support for labor, delivery and postpartum health including depression, and family, life and personal goal planning.

The Soul of Philanthropy and the United Black Fund

The Soul of Philanthropy Cleveland is a collaboration of local civic and community leaders, volunteer activists and philanthropists. They united to create a vehicle that will educate and inform audiences about the rich history of African-American charitable giving. Although the traveling exhibit is wrapping up in Cleveland, the group’s leadership has created The Cleveland Black Equity and Humanity Fund. It supports and facilitates philanthropic investment in causes and issues that promote black-led social and economic change throughout Northeast Ohio. The fund is held at the United Black Fund of Greater Cleveland. Make contributions here.

EYEJ: Empowering Youth, Exploring Justice

EYEJ provides life skills and personal development tools for some of the most vulnerable youth in Cleveland: sixth, seventh, and eighth graders. They seek to empower and amplify the voices of teens and pre-teens by bridging them with diverse individuals to engage in interactive discussions centered around social justice. They do this by creating a few programs for youth to understand social justice issues and build leadership skills through the EYEJ Impact 25 Youth Council, a year-long discussion series facilitated by leaders in the community, and with an online platform that connects young people across the country who are interested in these topics.

Recess Cleveland

This nonprofit program creates safe spaces for play during what they call pop-up “recess” events at schools, community gatherings, and private events in and around Northeast Ohio. They throw pop-up "recess" events with food and community resources and feature creative games of skill (skip it, hula hoop, jump rope contests) and teamwork (kickball, dodgeball, soccer) with caring young adults and volunteers. They bring the community together to promote physical activity, foster neighborhood relationships and create safe spaces to play. 

It’s that time of year when people start scrambling to find that perfect holiday gift for a loved one or even themselves. Cleveland is a city of makers, builders, and craftspeople—a community of many talents. And we like to shop local.

So, FreshWater Cleveland asked some Cleveland business leaders, artists, entrepreneurs, and community advisers to tell us their go-to holiday gifts—whether the gift is made in Cleveland, shows city pride, or simply represents some of Cleveland’s finest qualities.

Here’s what 10 Clevelanders, and the city of Cleveland, think shoppers should consider this year.

Sam McNulty, co-founder and owner of Ohio City’s Market Garden Brewery, the trio McNulty’s Bier Markt, Bar Cento, and Speakeasy, and Nano Brew, suggests two options for his ideal holiday night on the town.

<span class="content-image-text">For Sam McNulty, one option is an off-trail hike in the Cleveland Metroparks with his wife, Ciara, and their dog.</span>For Sam McNulty, one option is an off-trail hike in the Cleveland Metroparks with his wife, Ciara, and their dog."Option 1: A huge off-trail hike in in the Cleveland Metroparks with my wife, Ciara, and our dog Bo. Then dinner at Flour, where the super-talented chefs Paul Minillo and Matt Mytro craft amazing meals from great ingredients. The restaurant is so far outside the city, it feels like we're on a mini-vacation. and they have Market Garden Citramax IPA on draft, which is vacation in a glass.

"Option 2: This is the closer-to-home option. We ride our bikes out to dinner at the Black Pig and enjoy chef Michael Nowak's incredible farm-to-folk cooking. This winter, they have Market Garden Two Bit Pirate Stout on draft, and it's a perfect winter warmer on a cold, dark night.

"Then we ride to the Capitol Theatre to catch a movie. On the way home, we make a pit stop at Mitchell's Homemade Ice Cream, where we try several flavors and ask them to ladle extra peanut butter sauce on whichever flavor we end up settling on. Then we're on our way home, with the possibility of a nightcap at Velvet Tango Room."

<span class="content-image-text">As winter settles in, the go-to gift for Felton Thomas Jr. is a Browns knit hat.</span>As winter settles in, the go-to gift for Felton Thomas Jr. is a Browns knit hat.Felton Thomas Jr., executive director and CEO of the Cleveland Public Library, has just one gift in mind as winter settles in: "My go-to (it's cold outside): Browns knit hat."

Steve Presser, co-owner of Sweeties Big Fun, certainly knows the value of a collectible vintage toy. But he also sees the value of choosing locally made fine art as gifts for his loved ones.

"I think there’s something really special about giving art, because it’s always unique, and you know the hand that created it. It’s never cookie cutter. Heights Arts does an incredible job of showcasing probably 100 artists. So, you walk into the store and you’re not looking at [just] one person’s work. You can find gifts for almost anybody.

"I also like Planet Joy Studio in Medina, which [features] art created by people with different abilities and disabilities. It’s new, it’s great, and it’s not so expensive. I find it crazy that people spend oodles and oodles of money on things not appreciated. The nice thing about giving art is it will last a while."

Clark Pope, founder of Pope’s Kitchen and Pope’s Catering, tempts the regional palette with his bloody Mary mixes, cocktail syrups, and hot sauces. His is one of many local companies providing a local shopping experience at Merchant’s Mrkt at Legacy Village.

<span class="content-image-text">Clark Pope and Michael Bennet both like some of the unique chocolates at Fear’s Confections.</span>Clark Pope and Michael Bennet both like some of the unique chocolates at Fear’s Confections."For food gifts, I love to give the geek chocolates from Fear's Confections in Lakewood—really fun stuff. As a food person, I love giving fun foods, I know the size always fits, and everyone I know likes chocolate. Fear's has a great selection of molded characters, from 'Dr. Who' to 'Star Wars.'

"For housewares, I really like the diverse options from Blastmaster. They sandblast or laser etch all types of glassware.

"If I am shipping [gifts] to former Clevelanders, I like to go to Cleveland in a Box. They have a great selection of Cleveland [themed items] ready to ship."

Michael Bennett, vice president of external affairs at the Cleveland Leadership Center, always likes to show off some of the local makers at places like Brick Ceramic and Design Studio and Waterloo Arts.

"In a similar vein, in my neck of the woods is the Heights Arts gift shop, which has just about all locally made things.

"Fear’s Confections has Cleveland themed treats, while Ape Made features hand-printed, locally themed goods like T-shirts, show globes, beer glasses, and throw pillows.

"And for those who don’t know what to get, you can always get gift cards to local uniquely Cleveland places that people otherwise might not visit, like Beachland Ballroom or Tommy’s restaurant."

<span class="content-image-text">Kevin Goodman gets their company gift baskets at The Wine Spot in Cleveland Heights.</span>Kevin Goodman gets their company gift baskets at The Wine Spot in Cleveland Heights.Kevin Goodman, managing director with BlueBridge Networks, a cloud data center and managed services business headquartered in downtown Cleveland, shops with his clients in mind.

"I get our company gift baskets at The Wine Spot in Cleveland Heights because they procure products that are predominantly from the Heights, Cleveland, and the state of Ohio.

"I also purchase Cleveland sporting events tickets for our customers and often dine with them in independent restaurants like Lola Bistro, Greenhouse Tavern, Cowell and Hubbard, Fire Food and Drink—and Lucky’s Café for breakfast or lunch.

"It is important for our economy to keep dollars local."

Bella Sin, Cleveland Burlesque Queen, is an award-winning performer, activist and proud Mexican immigrant whom “Cleveland Magazine” named in 2011 “One of Cleveland's Most Interesting People.”

"I only shop local for the holidays every year, So I have a ton of Cleveland makers on my list. How can you not shop local is my question.

"Oceanne in Gordon Square is easily one of my favorite places to go if I need something that is not only unique but handmade. Anne makes her jewelry by hand, and she is such a passionate person. She is an absolute powerhouse of an artist and businessperson.

<span class="content-image-text">Something that is on Bella Sin’s list this year is ILTHY's Cleveland Against The World hoodie.</span>Something that is on Bella Sin’s list this year is ILTHY's Cleveland Against The World hoodie."Something that is on my list this year is ILTHY's Cleveland Against The World hoodie. I travel a lot, and often I need something to keep me warm between dance rehearsals, shows and jet setting to shows all around the country. I have been eyeing this for some time now, and I can't wait to either treat myself or have it under my tree for a family member.

Josh Jones, marketing director, the Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization and Cudell Improvement, Inc. says “I love supporting a small Cleveland business and being eco-friendly at the same time, so I'm buying vintage this year.

"In the Detroit Shoreway, the Lorain Avenue Antiques District makes for a true shopping adventure. Bijou Antique Gallery has furniture, of course, but I've found they have lots of antique toys, too.

"In Edgewater, A Separate Reality Records, Ohio's largest used vinyl store, just opened a new shop at 11221 Detroit Ave. I know I'll find something rare there that will rock my best friend's world. And Flower Child on Clifton Boulevard is full to the ceiling with the best Christmas kitsch. That's my source this year for our family's ornament exchange."

The city of Cleveland has a special request for holiday gift seekers:As people shop for the holidays, please keep in mind our diverse vendors at the West Side Market. From the right spices to the best cuts of meat to delicious pastries and fresh produce, the market has all the ingredients to make a delightful holiday meal. In addition, there are specialty products from vendors like the Cleveland Clothing Company that make for great gifts.

<span class="content-image-text">Jenny Goe likes that Hannah Manocchio of Snakes and Acey's hand draws her designs with an urban feel in her studio on Murray Hill in Little Italy.</span>Jenny Goe likes that Hannah Manocchio of Snakes and Acey's hand draws her designs with an urban feel in her studio on Murray Hill in Little Italy.Jenny Goe, owner of In the 216 and Jewelry by Jenny, closed the doors to her physical stores this year, but she still knows all the local makers to keep her online shops running.

"For apparel, [go to] Snakes and Acey's. Hannah Manocchio hand draws her designs with an urban feel in her studio on Murray Hill in Little Italy. Or, Kay-Em Apparel for his iconic pop culture take on Cleveland.

"For jewelry, Deby's Designs uses fused glass to create jewelry, boxes, and ornaments. She has a retail store in Fairview Park. Cynde H Designs uses old negatives and film to come up with a quirky style of earrings and pendants. Perfect for movie lovers or photographers.

"Glamour Edge Beauty, owned by Precious Russell, is one of my new favorites. She makes all vegan makeup. Love the colors she comes up with.

"E11even 2 Gallery is my go-to gallery for the perfect piece of art. The three artists that own the gallery have their own individual style, and I guarantee you will find a gift for the art lover.

"Junie Balloonie has some of the best glassware designs locally that I have seen etched on glass. She also makes wood ornaments, jewelry, and amazing paper flowers."

Cindy Barber, owner of the Beachland Ballroom and Tavern

"My gift-giving sources are generally very local, and I feel like anyone in my North Collinwood neighborhood can find a good gift and support Waterloo merchants at the same time.

"This year, I might combine a pound of smoked bacon from R&D Sausage, 15714 Waterloo Road, with a pound of fresh roasted coffee from Six Shooter Coffee.

<span class="content-image-text">Cindy Barber and Michael Bennett always like to show off some of the local makers at places like Brick Ceramic and Design Studio.</span>Cindy Barber and Michael Bennett always like to show off some of the local makers at places like Brick Ceramic and Design Studio."Brick Ceramic and Design Studio has wonderful bowls and mugs for sale, and I have always found a great art gift at the annual Article Holiday Art and Craft Show this weekend at the cozy coop Article gallery.

"Of course, Waterloo is also all about experiences, so you can now give gift certificates for yoga classes at Pop Life, which just opened in November, or a fiber art workshop at Praxis Fiber Workshop, the wonderful nonprofit which just opened a new digital loom facility.

"We also have new art galleries. Framed Gallery specializes in African-American art and brings in work from national and international artists. This weekend, the new Photocentric gallery, created by neighborhood resident Michael Loderstat, is opening as part of our Winterloo Walk All Over Waterloo on Friday, Dec. 6. This will be a photography-centered showcase spot.

"And because we are Waterloo, and music and vintage is how we roll, I always run down to Blue Arrow Records, Star Pop Vintage or try to help Melanie at Music Saves by grabbing a stocking stuffer vinyl record, iconic T-shirt or campy collectible."

Karin Connelly Rice
Karin Connelly Rice

About the Author: Karin Connelly Rice

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.