We Love This Place: Shopkeepers, citizens dish on local holiday tradition
The Hook's editorial staff takes a break this week from producing the hard-hitting news you've grown accustomed to (at least in the cover story), choosing instead to check in with local shop owners and citizens to ask them how they celebrate the holidays in Charlottesville, and where they go to find gifts for their loved ones. Indeed, as a sign of what the Hook has come to be known for, some folks we popped in on likely wondered what controversy they might be embroiled in, but after some reassurances that we were just there to find out what treasures in Charlottesville give them joy during the holidays, they dropped their guard. But make no mistake, economic times are still tough, and business owners are weathering the times the best they can. In fact, it's an anxious time for shop keepers, gearing up for the big holiday rush, and we thank them for taking the time to chat with us. Anyway, we figured you needed a break from the hard news, at least for a week. Enjoy. And Happy Holidays!
"I love having an evening out with my employees during the holidays," says Gardner, whose shoe store is in the north wing of the Barracks Road Shopping Center. "And I love handing out bonuses and seeing the looks on their faces–it brings me real joy." One year, Gardner says she rented a Wahooptie van and she and her employees went around and looked at Christmas lights around her neighborhood. This year, she hopes to sponsor families at the Shelter for Help and Emergency. "Kids there are worried Santa won't find them," says Gardner, "and we want to make sure he does." As for go-to places for gifts, Gardner mentions spa treatments from Neroli and Oasis, and all things food from the Charlottesville City Market.
For many folks, Feast! in the West Main Market is a must for holiday shopping. Indeed, we were hard-pressed to find someone who didn't mention Feast! whose selection of local and artisanal foods make tasty and special gifts. For owners Kate Collier and Eric Gertner, it means the holidays are mostly consumed with handling the rush. When asked what they do as a couple for the holidays, Gertner laughs, "We make gift boxes," he says. Still, they do have time to enjoy looking for treasures at other places in town. Specifically, Collier says she enjoys checking out Artifacts on the Downtown Mall and the Barn Swallow on Ivy Road. "We really love the holidays," says Collier. "There is so much energy in here."
Eloise clothing and apparel shop on West Main Street is known for its fashionable offerings, and its fashionable manager Heather Romberger has some advice for those looking for holiday gifts–- shop local. "I think it's important to support our local business during the holidays, plus there are so many good ones," she says. Feast! and the Organic Butcher, she says, are great places to pick up great food items. Gathering around the dinner table is what is special to her about the holidays. In fact, she says that "team Eloise" makes a point of having a nice dinner together every year. Personally, Romberger says she enjoys walking the Downtown Mall with her kids during the holidays, selecting their holiday tree at Ivy Nursery, and preparing that big holiday meal.
If you're looking for that special gift for that special animal in your life, the Animal Connection in McIntire Plaza is the place to go. Plus you get to visit owner Pat Boden's dog, Sophia. While most days during the holidays are spent at the shop, Boden says her one holiday tradition is taking a Christmas Day ride with her horse. She also recommends Pinnell Custom Leather in Crozet, Lynn Goldman Studio in Barracks Road Shopping Center, and Beer Run in Belmont for gift ideas. Beer Run? "Who doesn't," she asks, "want good beer for the holidays?"
During the holidays there's always a party going on in Noelle Chasse's shop Boutique Boutique on the Downtown Mall. Indeed, with all the cool jewelry, shoes, dresses, children's clothing, and other apparel items in her store, there's reason to hang out, and enjoy the relaxed and friendly atmosphere that Chasse creates for her customers. "I love the stocking stuffers from Cha Cha's," she says, "and I always try to buy something from the Downtown Mall vendors outside, too. They're freezing out there!"
As you can imagine, this is a busy time for Downtown Mall toy store owner Cassandra Mathis. Already, ahead of Black Friday, people have been coming in to get a head start on their holiday shopping. One fun thing that Mathis and her employees do every year to take the strain off the holiday sales grind is to challenge Mall neighbor and Cha Cha's owner Marla Cantor and her employees to an annual bowling match at Kegler's. "We have a trophy," she says, "and we're going to win this year!" Her suggestion for holiday shopping? Cha Cha's, of course.
Verdigris Clothiers owner Mazi Vogler, a native of Israel, obviously didn't grow up celebrating Christmas, but the holiday has grown on her during her time in Charlottesville. "I'm Jewish, but I still love Christmas," she says. "I really enjoy singing Christmas carols on the Downtown Mall when they light the trees." As for holiday shopping, well, the gorgeous clothing she features in her Downtown Mall store is sure to make that special lady– and man– in your life swoon. But she's quick to point out that there are fabulous shops up and down the Mall, like nearby Bittersweet and Derriere de Soie to name a few.
"I love walking along the Downtown Mall before and after dinner with my two girls, enjoying the Christmas lights, the crisp air, the ringing of Salvation Army Bells and just the all-around vibrancy of humanity," says Woodriff. As Christmas approaches, Woodriff likes to take her kids to the Nutcracker performance at the Paramount, and of course do some shopping. Her favorites? O'Suzannah, Alakazam, Artifacts, and Petit Bebe to name a few. "I also make a point of piling into the car to see the crazy Christmas light displays that go up every year in the neighborhoods between Rio Road East and Locust Grove," she says.
As a former Mayor of Charlottesville, Norris has been a City booster in an official capacity, but personally he doesn't need any coaxing to wax nostalgic about holiday traditions in Charlottesville. For the past few years Norris has enjoyed being one of the judges at the Virginia Gingerbread Christmas contest at the Omni. "My kids and I really like to see all the different designs," he says. Norris also thinks the "Holly Trolley" is a "blast," as well as First Night Virginia. But Norris isn't one to forget the needy during the holidays. "There are a lot of service opportunities in the area around the holidays, like with PACEM [People and Congregations Engaged in Ministry, which provides shelter for the homeless], and other holiday giving programs," he says.