Finding holiday spirit in brick-and-mortar stores

By Samantha Critchell

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 23 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

Fashioned after a New England cabin oasis, Palmer will be all decked out for the holidays, hoping to transport customers for a few minutes to that ski vacation that might be on top of their wish list.

The shop plans to serve apple pie and warm cider brought back from Massachusetts by Ramirez after Thanksgiving there at his parents' home. It's part of Small Business Saturday, the neighborhood alternative to Black Friday that emphasizes experience over price.

Elle's Zee, also star of Sundance Channel's "All On the Line," a reality show about fashion businesses, says exciting visuals and fun are two gifts stores can give to shoppers.

"I don't see holiday shopping as a chore," he says. "I'm a gift person — I love giving gifts and I love personalizing gifts for everyone else. ... Online gifts never cross your hands. They go from cyberspace to the doorstep of the recipient. I think a gift needs that personal touch." Even when he orders online, he has items shipped to himself, not the recipient, so he can personally "put it in something other than the brown box."

Packaging is a big part of holiday shopping for me as well. I love the refinement of those heavy-stock bags upscale retailers give out. Walking by Tiffany & Co. this time of year, its signature blue bags stand out on busy Fifth Avenue, and you can imagine the happy recipient at the other end.

If a store wraps packages, I know their bows will come out better than mine. But then there'll be the one night when I lay out all the wrapping paper I've bought — goofy Santa dogs, sophisticated stripes and Hanukkah menorahs — and I'll go to work making my own curlicue ribbons and filling out gift tags.

It's a satisfying feeling when the stack is complete, and I can't wait to give them out. Holiday shopping is always a whirlwind, and I'll savor the downtime to come, but sign me up again next year.

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