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

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.

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."

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.

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."

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.

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.

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.

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."

Read more articles by 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.
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