(Updated November 2023 for 2023 holiday season)
The holidays are weird for me, both on a personal and professional level. I’m an atheist anti-capitalist, but I still love Christmas and many of its traditions. I really like giving and getting gifts, but I get hung-up on avoiding chain stores and shitty corporations and mass-produced planned-obsolescent proprietary landfill. I end up paralyzed by the whole process.
So here is a Chicago-centric list of local/small, family/friend-owned businesses to support, not only during the holidays, but year-round. When you buy from these folks, know that you’re feeding good people and their families, not providing an unsustainable R.O.I. for investors.
Let me start with my own small business, Midwest Ephemera. I don’t really have much in the way of products, but we’re here for all your printing, design, and photography needs. All these services can be confusing and expensive, but we’re able to guide you through the process of making something truly special. Same deal with my shopmate C’mon Home… my success is linked to Matt’s, so don’t feel like you’re going to hurt my feelings if you think he’s a better fit for your project.
I’m sure in writing this monster list, I’ve forgotten many lifelong friends, sorry, if you’d like to be included, please ask!
Field Notes, my day job, featuring made-in-USA memo books, including “Quarterly Subscriptions” to our limited editions
Buddy features tons of great gifts by small Chicago artists.
Beside Ourselves candles, scarves, shoelaces, greeting cards
Nerfect Mr. Walters’ awesome plushies, pins, artwork, lots of pugs
Wolf Bait and B-Girls Hundreds of local arts/crafts in one shop
Shirts So Good obscure classic rock and pop culture t-shirts
Draplin Design Co. (Portland, OR) hats, t-shirts, posters, gifts
Leigh McKolay Design badass-earth-mother designs
Gross Glass glass jewelry, accessories, and art
Thriftbooks.com I sure wouldn’t be offended if you gifted me a used book (or two) instead of spending $35 on a new one (See also: records). Thriftbooks is so cheap I kinda feel like I shouldn’t tell people about it
Howling Pages Comic books/zines/graphic novels in Chicago
Open Books a great browsable local resource for used (and new) books
Quimby’s a Chicago book/zine institution
Matter (Denver) the mighty Rick Griffith’s bookstore/giftshop, heavy on art, design, and social issues.
Three Cheers Press our friend Cory Wasnewski has an amazing new book Instrumental, compiling his letterpress prints of musical instruments, great for any music lover!
Steps is a wooden-tile-throwing game developed by a scooter friend, Oleksandr, in Ukraine. It’s a little like reverse-Jenga, you throw tiles onto a stack trying to make it as high as possible and hope the next player knocks off some tiles. It’s addictive and fun, we’ve been playing it all summer!
Orbit Records the new shop in my neighborhood
Oak Park Records the old shop in my neighborhood
Bucket O’ Blood another fave, punk and horror books, movies, and records
Jump Up Chuck’s Ska/Reggae online superstore
Revolver Records (Pensacola) my old pal Elvis
Everybody’s and Shake It (Cincinnati) my two favorites, anywhere.
Tarnish local shop w/great gifts, esp for women motorcyclists
Vespa Club of America store, or a gift membership
Lambretta Club USA store, or a gift membership
Support your local scooter shops and other small businesses
(Too many to list, ask for specific references based on location/needs!)
Starshaped Press amazing Chicago-centric hand-typeset prints
Chema Skandal posters, zines, slipmats, t-shirts
Kent Smith mixed-media pop art mashups
René Arceo wood and lino-cut prints
Ben Blount posters and books
Brad Vetter (Louisville) music posters
Aquarius House letterpress art prints and cards
Rob Syers (St. Louis) Gumballhead the Cat and “Space Witches”
(Rob’s currently battling eye issues, help him out!)
Phineas X. Jones paintings and prints
Steven Shay mixed-media collages, lots of Chicago content
Ron Richter (NYC) paintings
I’m lucky to have so many amazing printmaking/artist friends… let me know if you’re looking for something specific and I’ll point you towards it.
Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum / Partners in Print / Ladies of Letterpress all offer a few gift items, but more importantly offer classes and resources for new printers. Also, if you’re donating some cash this year, I’d love to see it go their way.
New Rose Catering meal delivery, events, or cooking classes
Heather Parker family/portrait/corporate photography
The Lincoln Lodge comedy events and classes
Crybaby Tattoo tattoos by Nina Flomp
Busy Beaver Button Co. for custom pins, stickers, magnets, and more
What are you doing New Year’s Eve? How about the Heart of Chicago Soul Club party at the Hideout!?
Jacks of All Trades
Plastic Crimewave (Xmas card spoiler alert!) designed our family holiday cards this year in the style of his Chicago Reader column “The Secret History of Chicago Music.” He’s got a great book compiling many of those columns, as well as many zines, prints, and PCW records available.
Guitar Pedals That Make Fart Sounds
The Fart Pedal Steve won Shark Tank, and he’s out of control
Buy used! Thrift stores are a bit picked-over these days, but ask your friends and keep an eye out on the neighborhood swap lists, people have good stuff they don’t use, and are often happy to sell it. Look on Etsy and eBay for long-lost souvenirs of childhood or mementos with personal relevance to a friend. Most books, records, CDs, DVDs, video games are available used for a fraction of the price and you’re keeping stuff out of landfills. Have you ever seen how many $3 Crock Pots are stacked up at every thrift store? Who is buying a new Crock Pot?