Handmade Arcade

The holiday shopping season is about to begin in earnest.

Forget fighting crowds at a mall or buying online. You can find some of the best gifts at independent, locally-owned businesses and holiday markets in Pittsburgh.

Buying from neighborhood-scale businesses strengthens the local economy and helps to build community health and cohesiveness, says the American Independent Business Alliance. Many vendors and artisans come together for holiday marketplaces or invite people into pop-up studios to shop for unmistakably unique gifts.

Get into the spirit with Comcast Light Up Night this Friday and then Black Friday and Small Business Saturday sales next week.

Here are some shopping ideas:

Peoples Gas Holiday Market. Photo courtesy Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership.

Peoples Gas Holiday MarketTM
Market Square
November 18-December 23 (Closed Thanksgiving Day)

Now in its fifth year, this market inspired by the German Christkindlmarkts transforms a corner of Downtown into a European shopping village. Visitors browse inside Alpine-style wooden chalets to find artisan gifts such as hand-blown glass ornaments, leather journals, nesting dolls and nutcrackers from Poland, Lithuanian candle houses, Haitian wall art, Irish tea, African baskets and walking sticks, and a wide selection of international toys. Vendors include Cha-Ching Coin Jewelry, Euro Haus, Women of the Cloud Forest, Mistura Timepieces, and the Italian Gift Shoppe. Local entertainment will take the stage, including school choirs and ethnic performance groups. After dark, there’s a musical light show. Parents, take note: Santa’s House is open for several hours each day.

At I Made it! Market for the Holidays.

I Made it! for the Holidays

On Friday and Saturday, November 25th and 26th, get to the pop-up market at Heinz 57 Center at 623 Smithfield St. for I Made It! for the Holidays where more than 100 regional artisans will sell all kinds of handmade wares. Shop for everyone on your list from 11 am to 6 pm on Black Friday and Small Business Saturday and plan on a meal from one of the food trucks stationed on Smithfield St.–the Mac and Gold Truck, Franktuary & Onion Maiden will be there on Friday while the Pgh Sandwich Society & South Side BBQ Company will line the street on Saturday. This is the 10th year for this market and they’re celebrating with a raffle with prizes which benefit the much-loved Assemble, and lots more.

Handmade Arcade, photo by Joey Kennedy.

Handmade Arcade
David L. Lawrence Convention Center
December 3
11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

At Pittsburgh’s first and largest independent craft fair, 150+ artists, crafters and innovative do-it-yourself designers sell unusual jewelry, knitted accessories, silk-screened prints and tees, bath and body products, housewares and other original and very cool items. New this year is Daniel Buchanan, whose Pittsburgh-based Studio Glass Company makes art glass tableware (check out his koi pond platter), lighting and architectural installations. Founded in 2004, the award-winning Arcade drew 9,000 attendees last year—proof of the resurgence of crafting and consumer support for the buy local/buy handmade movement. In the event’s free “Hands-on Handmade” activity and learning area, demonstrators share the creation of art with silk-screening, mural-making, 3D printing, creative reuse, giant games, and much more. This one is a don’t miss.

Martini in the airside terminal at Pittsburgh International Airport. Photo by TC.

Pittsburgh International Airport Holiday Open House
December 3

Remember when anyone could shop in Airside Terminal stores? For the third year, the airport will open its stores to the public for holiday shopping, dining, visits with Santa and live music. Parking is free and some stores offer discounts. The TSA requires registration and photo ID to expedite a security pass; walk-ups may experience a longer wait for security processing. Once inside, you can browse international brands such as Armani Jeans, Hugo Boss, Lacoste, Desigual, and Tumi. If you haven’t been through the airport lately, its restaurants include Iron Chef Michael Symon’s Bar Symon, Martini and Vino Volo wine bars. Other attractions: the gorgeous Pittsburgh-inspired terrazzo floor, Robot Repair Shop and Kidsport play and learning area. Get all the fun of the airport without the hassle of a delayed flight!

Sweetwater Center for the Arts Holiday mART
December 2 — 11

Local and national artists sell handcrafted jewelry, ceramics, glass, fiber arts and two-dimensional artwork at the nonprofit organization’s annual fundraiser to support its art programs, scholarships and participating artists. A preview party on December 1 will give guests a first chance to buy one-of-a-kind gifts, and the “Let the Men Cook!” event on December 2 (during Sewickley’s Light Up Night) includes a meal prepared by all-male volunteers. Sweetwater will also offer happy hours for shoppers to unwind with wine, snacks and retail therapy. Yes, we agree . . . sweeeet.

Kennywood: Behind the Screams by Brian Butko.

Senator John Heinz History Center Museum Shop
Strip District

Looking for unique “Pittsburgh” gifts for a lifelong Western Pennsylvanian or an out-of-town relative or friend? Try the Museum Shop or its e-store, shop.heinzhistorycenter.org. The shop is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. with no admission fee. Among the gift items are a “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” mug where he changes from suit coat to signature cardigan when you add hot water; a pocket-sized book, Kennywood: Behind the Screams, that takes a deep roller coaster dive into the park’s history with more than 300 vintage photos; and a perfect stocking stuffer book, Pittsburghese: From Ahrn to Yinz by the History Center staff.

Courtesy of Lily & Val.

Lily & Val

Founder and creative director Valerie McKeehan augmented her hugely successful online boutique by opening a flagship store at 5900 Ellsworth Avenue in October. The store has a mix of local artisan gifts, hand-drawn cards and prints, and vintage home decor items—what she calls “a carefully curated collection of lovelies.” McKeehan began selling her hand-drawn chalk art in 2012 and has grown Lily & Val into a stationery and gift company with products at retailers nationwide. Her kitchen diary is a best-seller. The store has a custom-built wall of cards and a sign-and-seal location with markers and stamps. The online 2016 Holiday Gift Shop has note cards, prints, mugs, calendars, nesting cake tins, adult coloring books, lockets and more. Who is Lily? “A nod to my mother,” says McKeehan’s bio. “We both share a love of flowers—in particular, stargazer lilies. It is also a reference to Luke 12:27, a passage reminding us not to worry.”

Courtesy of Moop.

Downtown and online

“Unique to us this year is our new brick-and-mortar retail store in Downtown Pittsburgh,” says artist Wendy Downs, who built a successful handbag company from a failed attempt to make a dress. She made her first bag in 2007, sold it on Etsy and hasn’t looked back. The shop at 429 First Avenue will be open during Light Up Night with hot cider and a selection of canvas bags and goods for sale. “We run promotional sales throughout the holiday season but we do not announce them until the day of,” says Downs. In addition to weekdays, she’ll add Saturday hours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. November 26 through December 17. Check out the two new bags: The Weekender (for a few days away) and The Tote No. 1 or No. 2 (a daily use bucket bag).

Sandra Tolliver

Sandra Tolliver is a freelance writer, editor and public relations professional in Upper St. Clair.