If you’re looking for presents that will also do some good, check out the gift shops of local museums and/or cultural institutions. You can feel good about supporting these organizations and get a beautiful gift for someone (or yourself) in return. And because many gifts are handmade and unique, you don’t have to worry about giving your recipients something they already own.
Brooklyn Botanic Garden
1000 Washington Avenue, Brooklyn | 718-623-7200
Give your loved ones something that evokes a feeling of springtime in the frigid winter months. Expect many gifts with floral prints or patterns on them, but that doesn’t just mean old lady anymore. There are some really cool and quirky gifts that anyone will love. Consider the ecosphere, described as “the world's first totally enclosed ecosystem ($85), a complete, self-sustaining miniature world encased in glass.” There is filtered seawater in the dome, with active microorganisms, little red shrimp and algae living in it. Browse through a wonderful selection of unique gifts in the Garden’s physical or online store.
Flushing Town Hall
137-35 Northern Boulevard, Flushing | 718-463-7700
Flushing Town Hall's shop showcases the handcrafted artwork of 50 local Queens- and Long Island-based artists. “The goal is to make sure all who visit the shop can walk out with something special that will generate memories for years. Visitors should also be happy to know that their purchase also helps to support a non-profit organization, as well as the local artists,” said FTH executive director Ellen Kodadek. There are many items with Asian influence, paying tribute to the large Asian community in Flushing. There are many tiger items now, as 2010 becomes the year of the tiger in the Chinese zodiac. The store offers handmade jewelry, pottery, paintings and the award-winning Baby Loves Jazz books since jazz is big at FTH. “Many shoppers have told me, ‘This is the best kept shopping secret in Queens,’” said Kodadek. All store items are currently 10% off, 20% off for members (FTH memberships may also be given as gifts). Normally the store is only open before, during and after performances, but it’s hosting a holiday shopping sale with special hours: 12/19, 1-5PM; 12/20, 1-5PM; 12/21, 5-9PM. Call if you can’t make it for those times and the staff will try to work something out with you.
80 Hanson Place, Brooklyn | 718-230-0492
The Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts is a venue that showcases visual arts media that center on issues affecting people of the African diaspora. The gift shop has a variety of books that correspond with the featured artists or exhibits. There are many cool items in this store, but the really neat thing is that many of them are handmade by local artists. Check out this red African necklace and the matching earrings ($100 for the set). “It’s beautiful and it’s handmade. A lot of work and creativity was put into it,” said Paulo Bispo, store manager. “If you have a piece like that, you don’t need to put anything else on.” MOCADA also has an online store (www.mocada.org) where you can purchase some of the books they stock, but to get the full selection, check their store in Fort Greene.
Queens Museum of Art
NYC Building at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Queens | 718-592-9700
This store might remind you a little of those “I Love NY” tourist shops you find in Times Square, but it’s definitely less cheesy and it’s more Queens-centric. You will find bags and T-shirts with Chinese text or “Hecho in Queens” printed on them, making visitors aware of Queens’ immigrant community. The main draw of this museum is the fact that it features many items from the 1939-40 and 1964-65 World’s Fairs. In the museum store, there is a huge selection of original World’s Fair items—admission tickets for $1.50, postcards $2.50-$5, small posters $35 and beautiful porcelain plates and other memorabilia are also available for purchase. It’s hard to believe that for as little as $1.50, you can own a piece of history, but it’s true. The pieces are not from the museum’s own collection; they are obtained from dealers and determined to be genuine before they are resold in QMA's store. The one-of-a-kind World’s Fair items would make perfect gifts for collectors, history buffs or just people who have memories of the Fair(s) and would appreciate a walk down memory lane.