Like everything about this year so far, the holiday season is bound to be weird. Shopping feels like a calculation of Covid risk-assessment and long waits, even at the most responsible and hospitable of stores. Lots of us have lost jobs, and money may be scarce. Meanwhile, 2020 is also the year Jeff Bezos became the first person ever worth $200 billion dollars.
Just as it’s a weird year for shoppers, it’s also a weird year for vendors. While it’s been heartbreaking to watch many beloved brick-and-mortar shops close, it’s also been heartening to see shops and individuals creatively adapt to our suddenly-changed world. I’ve been wowed watching creative people throughout the East Bay launch new projects and independent micro-businesses amid the pandemic.
In some ways, it’s easier than ever to find unique and magnificent gifts that support talented people who live and work in the East Bay. This gift guide is designed to give you ideas for how to do all of your holiday shopping without setting foot in a mall and without giving Amazon.com a penny.
Knife Sharpening by Ry’s Knives
The idea for this gift guide came when I discovered Adahlia Cole’s project compiling the creative entrepreneurial projects of the Bay Area’s laid-off restaurant workers. Most listings on her fabulous new site Hungry Hungry Hooker (hungryhungryhooker.squarespace.com) are for prepared food offerings, but a few are for non-perishable foodstuffs and services that can be gifted. Ry’s Knives is a West Oakland side-business of Ryan Taylor, whose main gig (pre-pandemic) is as a captain at the 2-Michelin-star restaurant Lazy Bear. Sharpening rates are per knife and vary by size and shape, starting at $7. Taylor can also reshape edges and repair chips. For safe storage in drawers, he can also make beautiful custom sayas out of pine, sycamore or cedar. rysknives.com
Buy Black with Black Box Oakland
Black Box Oakland Collective is the volunteer project of six Bay Area Black women. Since March, their gift boxes have directed more than $90,000 to Black-owned, mostly-local businesses. While they planned to make their August offerings the last of 2020, popular demand impelled them to do a holiday release. Boxes range from $180–$300 and feature 18 to 30 items, each valued around $10–$15. Each box would make one bountiful gift or be split into many smaller gifts. Contents include things like premium beauty products, gourmet foods, books and games. Ninety percent of the contents are by Oakland vendors. Black Boxes will be available for order from Nov. 24 to Dec. 8, with pick-up and deliveries beginning Dec. 12. Last-minute local orders may be available after that while supplies last. afrourbansociety.com
The Collective Minds Book Club
The Collective – Oakland is a Black-owned online bookstore founded by Michelle Walton and Wesley Dawan in 2019, with the goal of opening a physical location in 2021. For $24.99 per month, their Collective Minds Book Club includes a hardcover book and three or four lifestyle gifts, mostly from small local businesses. Walton says, “We work hard to reflect our communities’ interests, concerns, and values.” A recent box included a spice mix from Oaktown Spice Shop, a Black Panthers People’s Free Food Program tote bag, Camellia red kidney beans and more. https://www.thecollectiveoakland.com/
Free Range Flower Wines
Instead of fresh flowers, give someone a different sort of bouquet with wines made from lavender, marigold, rose and hibiscus. Founded just two years ago by biologist and herbalist Aaliyah Nitoto and Sam Prestianni, Free Range Flower Winery utilizes local, organically grown, sustainable flowers and citrus to make their lineup of food-friendly beverages. Flower-based wines, as well as grape wines infused with flowers, are not new; flower wines were made in ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome and China’s Han Dynasty. Winemaker Nitoto says flower wines weren’t given the legitimacy that grape wines were because they were often made by serfs, rather than landowners who could afford vineyards or orchards. She is inspired by the many women who have made flower wines throughout history. The first releases were teeny-tiny (just 15 cases per batch) and sold out quickly. The popular “L” Lavender Wine, RoseHybiscus Red Wine and Marigold Wine are all available for pre-order now. Bottles are $23–$38 at freerangeflowerwinery.com
Queer Wave Coffee
Coffee is one of the most popular go-to gifts. It’s affordable, and 64 percent of the people in the U.S. drink it. But Queer Wave Coffee (QWC) founder Cheyenne Xochitl Love points out, “The history of coffee is a colonized one. Coffee is second only to oil as a worldwide commodity.” The culture around drinking coffee is often elitist and unwelcoming. After decades working in the industry, Love, who is a Two Spirit trans woman, created QWC to build a better community around coffee. She and her partner Alex Sparrow roast beans sourced from Catracha Coffee Company, which is owned by a Honduran-American woman and uses a profit-sharing model to directly benefit family farmers. QWC’s mission is anti-capitalist and education-oriented. Love says that QWC offers allies of LGBTQIA people a way to support a trans-owned business, but fair warning—QWC’s Instagram says consuming their coffee will make you gay. Twelve-ounce bags are $20 and you can choose from whole bean, ground for drip, or ground for French press.
Creative Workshop Kits for Kids and Artists from Mischief Oakland
Chances are, you’ve spent a lot more time looking at a computer or phone screen this year than you expected to. The same is almost certainly true for the kids in your life. For this reason, I adore gifts that allow me to use my hands for something other than typing, and develop an offline skill. These are also the first types of gifts I seek out when I’m shopping for my niece and nephew. Mischief Oakland features gifts for kids and adults from over 100 Bay Area makers. They also offer artist-led workshops, some of which are virtual. Mischief features all sorts of kits to make things including moldable playdough soap, slime and friendship bracelets. For older kids or grown ups, there are kits to learn embroidery, make scented soy candles or felt succulent gardens. mischiefoakland.com
Pre-Book a Tattoo or Buy Art from Your Favorite Artist
Tattoo shops in Alameda County only got the green light to re-open on Oct. 9, after nearly seven months of closure. Not every artist or customer is ready to partake in this intimate art again, but tattoo artists definitely need support this year. Lots of tattooists are selling wall art, jewelry or other art online. Some are selling gift-certificates or doing pre-bookings. If you don’t already have a favorite shop or artist in mind, check out Alameda’s Pretty in Ink (now open) or Oakland’s Diving Swallow. www.prettyinink alameda.com, divingswallow.com
Very-Private Movie Screening at the New Parkway Theater
Movie theaters have been hit especially hard by pandemic closures. Oakland’s comfy, community-centered gem The New Parkway is no exception, though this cinema-pub-cafe found creative ways to adjust. For an extra-special gift, two people (or up to six people who live together) can rent the theater and screen “just about anything” for up to three hours. The experience includes a three- or four-course meal made to order, and all the drinks you can drink. $500 for two, $750 for up to six. https://www.thenewparkway.com/very-private-rentals/