There are plenty of noble reasons to shop locally during the holidays.
Keeping your hard-earned money in the neighborhood and supporting the community during tough times is the most obvious.
But for river-wards residents, there luckily are other, more selfish reasons to do holiday shopping in these parts. Beyond avoiding mall parking and department-store lines, today’s mix of creative newcomers and generations-old businesses makes these neighborhoods an exceptional place to find original, meaningful gifts.
The richness of the local arts scene was on display at Greensgrow Farm on Cumberland Street last weekend, where the non-profit farm turned its greenhouses into a cozy holiday market.
Mixed in with the greenery and a carafe of hot mulled cider were some two-dozen tables featuring everything from bath salts to local soaps and hand-woven wool scarves. Many of the items were made right in the surrounding neighborhood, a fact that fit in with Greensgrow’s Shop Local, Shop Kensington theme.
For Matthew Borgen, having his goods for sale at the bazaar gave him a chance to connect with area residents while supporting the organization’s efforts.
Having worked in fine-art installations for the last 10 years, Borgen launched his “Recycled Rowhouse” concept a few years back. Scouring trash heaps and curbside scrap piles, Borgen and his partner, Monica Giacomucci, turn discarded materials into handsome household décor.
Think of well-worn balustrade spindles that have been polished smooth and turned into one-of-kind candle sticks, and you’re getting the idea.
Also popular are his birdhouses, assembled with mismatched wood panels that give them a rustic appeal.
Borgen especially likes those because not only is he reusing items that would otherwise head to the trash heap, but he’s also helping to create a habitat for local wildlife.
A few tables down from them, Lisa Charleson was selling her hand-woven goods, even as she spun more wool. A graphic designer who has been crocheting and spinning wool for years, she lives on Braddock Street in Kensington and runs a small — and increasingly cluttered — studio from her home.
“I’ve never met a craft that I didn’t like, and my studio is starting to show it,” Charleson joked.
Her big sellers last weekend were the scarves, brilliantly colored wool wraps that were as beautiful as they were warm. Also popular were her silk scarves.
She said she thinks it’s important to do holiday shopping locally because many local artists and crafters are helping to keep disappearing traditions — like hand-spinning wool — alive.
“It’s all these old-fashioned skills, and people are starting to lose touch with that sort of thing,” said Charleson. “Coming to places like this, you support that, and there’s also the satisfaction of meeting the artists and knowing where things are coming from.”
Another concentrated gathering of local crafters can be found at the 2424 Studios on York Street, where the Independent Craft Market will host its Famous Holiday Show from 1 to 8 p.m. Featuring more than 45 vendors, bands and free Pabst Blue Ribbon-sponsored refreshments, this event merges holiday shopping with the holiday
The event takes place at 2424 York St., and includes a suggested $2 donation.
And while those events make for an easy one-stop shopping experience, don’t forget to look at all the long-standing small businesses located on area streets.
Kindles and other e-readers might be the hot holiday gifts this season, but true romantics know that the real joy of reading happens between the covers of beautifully designed hardbacks.
And there are few better places in Philadelphia to find such a tome than at Port Richmond Books. Located at 3037 Richmond St., the early 1900s theater is now packed with more than 100,000 books, many of them beautiful and hard-to-find editions.
Visiting that same block, one can’t help but notice the rich and sweet aromas emanating from Szypula’s Bakery. An old-world Polish bakery, Szypula’s is in overdrive this time of year, cranking out thousands of boxes of its famed chrusciki — a crispy, light pastry that is fried and then dusted with powdered sugar.
Brother and sister John and Connie Jesiolowski have worked at the bakery since they were children, and the Christmas season is second only to the rush they see around Easter.
They said customers range from neighbors to those who left the area long ago but return to get something special — usually the chrusciki and the babkas — that makes Christmas traditional.
Connie Jesiolowski said that, this year more than ever, she is seeing younger customers come in for her baked goods. She is heartened to see a new generation embracing the old traditions.
And she, like other local business owners, sees the added meaning in shopping locally.
“It’s important to keep some of your shopping for the holidays in the neighborhood,” said Jesiolowski. “You can never completely avoid the Macy’s and the malls, but it real does mean something when you try to at least keep some of your shopping right here.” ••