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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Best Christmas Shopping in the Northwest- (plus a FREE GIFT for you)

Forget about Santa’s workshop at the North Pole. The best gifts are made right here in the Pacific Northwest, and they’re waiting for you in an old brick building on the corner of 27th and Proctor, in Tacoma, Washington. It’s the Pacific Northwest Shop, one of my favorite places any time of year, but especially now. (Read on to find out about the totally FREE gift you’ll get just for coming in.) I stopped by today, greeted by the bell on the door, and a pretty display of lighted trees in the window, and owner Bill Evans. “Well hello there, Candace!” he said, while giving his usual caring attention to customers, employees, and boxes of new merchandise that keep arriving. I call him a friend, but so do hundreds of other local people, so it’s always “old home week” in the shop. Those four walls contain not only the bounty of the Northwest, but the spirit of this place as well: natural beauty, good taste, friendliness and warmth.

Every year I send gifts with a regional flavor and flare to places as distant as Denmark. It’s easy to find something special at Bill’s shop. If you’re reading this but don’t live near Tacoma you can even browse the vast selection on line and read about the products and their makers. I picked up a basket at the door (that is, a REAL basket, not a dirty plastic one) and started selecting gifts I wish someone would buy for me, and that could mean anything in the store.

Specialty foods tempt shoppers immediately. There’s smoked wild Pacific salmon from Kasilof Fish Company, local preserves, dried fruit, extraordinary chocolate, coffees and teas (try Enchanted Teas made right in Tacoma), soup and baking mixes, Dan the Sausage Man summer sausage, and novelties like Space Needle Pasta, or Huckleberry Salt Water Taffy. I wish I could mention them all. How about a Washington State wine? Delights like these end up in specially chosen or custom made signature gift boxes the shop sends out each year by the hundreds, if not thousands, all over the country. They do the packing and even take them to the post office for you. I love thinking of recipients in far away states, or right in town, opening one of those collections of treasures.

Man cannot live by delicacies alone, but must also feed the soul with art. I am madly in love with the exquisite fused copper and glass creations of Jones Glassworks in Seattle, with their classically Northwest salmon theme. “It’s two brothers, the Jones brothers,” Bill said. Knowing about the vendors means a lot to him. I relished the richly colored pottery by northwest potter Mark Hudak, and tiles by Paul Lewing. These combine form with function, but the shop carries framed artwork as well, with subjects like regional scenery, Native American images, maritime, etc. The artwork extends to greeting cards, calendars and more. How could I forget the jewelry? Oh my! Those silver pieces in Northwest Native American designs call to me every time, and I've bought a lot of the Jody Coyote earrings.

If you love art glass, in addition to Jones Glassworks’ wonders, you'll find a huge selection from Glass Eye Studio. Made from the ash of Mount Saint Helens, these gems are arranged in front of a south-facing window like one huge kaleidoscope in every color and pattern imaginable. Impressive bowls and vases sit on shelves, but for only $22 you can buy one of the hundreds of glass balls displayed hanging or heaped in a trunk. Call them Christmas ornaments if you wish, but I’d hang one in a sunny window all year around, and they’re always available.

Books make great gifts and the Pacific Northwest Shop is loaded with titles from local authors, on a variety of regional subjects: cooking, travel, nature, history, and more, including one written by the store’s owner Bill Evans himself, along with historian Caroline Gallacci. It’s a fascinating history, from the popular Images of America Series, called "Tacoma’s Proctor District".

What makes this shop so special is Bill himself. He loves supporting local artists, artisans, writers, photographers, and cottage industries, especially in small towns, with products ranging from foods, like Thorp Prairie Corn Bread to natural soaps and lotions of which he has a large selection. “Look at this,” he said, holding up a bar of handmade soap. “Shepards Soap Company, in Shelton, Washington. Aren’t these great?” What’s also great is the way Bill knows his vendors personally and sincerely wants to help their businesses succeed. ( I too, wish I had space to mention everyone by name.) You can feel the warm and giving spirit of this shopkeeper permeating the store, so if you need a dose of Christmas cheer, unique Northwest gifts, and old-fashioned customer service from a great staff, come on in, and… (here’s the surprise) If you tell him you read this blog post on Good Life Northwest he’ll give you a FREE package of Rocca Thins chocolate coated buttercrunch candy.

Hey Santa, you’d better watch out! With a red hat and a beard, this guy could have your job.

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