By Alaina Johns
If you have gifts to buy before we (finally) see the end of 2020, spending your money with local independent businesses makes a big difference. These are our picks for affordable, distanced holiday shopping that will delight your loved ones while supporting Pennsylvania’s creative economy.
Self Care for Others
Based in York and Harrisburg, Shea Optimum is a great gift option for luxury skincare devotees on a budget. Featuring small-batch, hand-packaged natural body butters and oils for all skin types, as well as beard and hair oils, Shea Optimum has a wide range of products ready to ship for under $10.
Philadelphia artist Kara Tennis founded Justice Jewelry after decades of selling handmade, one-of-a-kind jewelry pieces fashioned from multi-media combinations of textiles and paint, beads and found objects, stones and stitches. Now, 100 percent of the sales from each Justice Jewelry piece support grassroots racial justice initiatives.
LoMo Studio, a handcrafted jewelry business in York County, offers striking pieces inspired by and incorporating the natural world. Founder Lori Campbell began making jewelry at home in 2013 and launched her business three years later. Materials like leaves, bones, and antlers make her work stand out, and her “electroformed organic” designs set feathers, plants, and even beetles and moths (all sustainably and ethically sourced) in copper for arresting earrings and pendants. Campbell also takes custom design requests.
Self-taught seamstress Nisha Blackwell takes pride in building her business, Knotzland, right where she grew up in the Homewood neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Employing a team of local workers, Knotzland creates one-of-a-kind bowties out of repurposed and reclaimed fabrics, recycling material from local draperies, designers, and even the Pittsburgh Opera. Knotzland offers free shipping to all U.S. buyers.
You may already know Jonathan’s Spoons, a Berks County workshop producing handmade cherrywood utensils that have been selling out at craft shows around the country for the last 30 years. Check out the next generation: Jonathan Simons’ daughter Hannah launched her own craft venture outside Philadelphia a few years ago. Hannah’s Ideas in Wood features handcrafted coasters, ornaments and holiday decor, iPad stands, beard combs, and more, all made in Pennsylvania from local, sustainably harvested cherry trees.
“In a world of plastic and metal, my products offer a breath of fresh air,” says Hannah.
Order by December 13 if you want delivery by Christmas.
Harrisburg native Emmanuelle Wambach’s Pittsburgh-based Emanuelle Ceramics offers beautiful hand-built and wheel-thrown mugs, plates, platters, vases, and more. Inspired by her mother’s flair for gardening and textiles, Wambach’s work boasts intricate floral and lace designs, each symbolizing its own culture and history. Fabrics fade, the artist says, but a ceramic plate lasts 10,000 years.
“By impressing the lace into clay, I create a fossil of that place, that object, that time,” she explains, “like putting a memory in stone, and holding that beauty and moment.”
For shipping by Christmas, place your orders by December 11.
Newly minted Philadelphia entrepreneur Danielle Llovier left a career in the restaurant industry to launch Growies Planters. She couldn’t afford pots for all the plants she brought home during quarantine, so she began to make her own. Now she offers a wide range of planters, from jewel-toned, durable epoxy resin cubes to smooth marbled cement basins.
“Every planter is hand-poured by me in my South Philly rowhome,” says Llovier.
Many are priced at $25 or less, making them a beautiful, affordable gift for anyone who became a devoted plant parent in the pandemic.
Custom candles are a great gift this year, since we’re spending so much time at home. Check out Allentown’s Wicksquisite Candles, whose coconut wax creations include gorgeous dessert-inspired aromas such as banana cream pie and cinnamon roll.
And Philly candle-lovers sing the praises of Wick and Wildflower, which you can browse and buy on Instagram. A variety of crystals, stones, and flowers nestle in creamy white wax poured into repurposed glasses and bowls. With inspirations like Game of Thrones and Downton Abbey, the creators say these handmade candles are perfect for setting new intentions as you light the wick.
For the griller in the family, give Pennsylvania flavor with Uncle Jammy’s. Pittsburgh entrepreneur Jamal Etienne-Harrigan has been making wing sauces and dry rubs for almost 15 years. The Connecticut-born Etienne-Harrigan’s culinary influences include his family’s roots in Baton Rouge and the Virgin Islands. Some of his products are seasonal, and some are year-round, like the sweet-and-spicy Your Arrogance Amuses Me!, a sauce made with papaya, pear, Arrogant Bastard Ale, basil, and ginger. Only-in-Pittsburgh dry rub varieties include Steel City Fry Seasoning and Bridge City Brisket Rub.
Chocolate is always a choice gift, and in PA, there’s no reason to grab a box at the drugstore when ordering from local makers is so easy. Greek-born Christoforos “Pop” Matangos (who came to the U.S. on a Merchant Marine ship in 1914) founded Matangos Candies, and his daughter-in-law and grandson still run the original Harrisburg store. Matangos is famous for the Venetian Mints invented by Pop, as well as hand-poured chocolates. Gift-wrapped assortment boxes are ready to ship.
Josh Early Candies is another historic Pennsylvania chocolatier, originally founded in Reading, and now operating locations in Allentown and Bethlehem with fifth-generation family staffers. Their candy recipes have been going strong for more than century, and holiday gift boxes ship free.
Frann Edley’s Sugar Plum Chocolates in Forty Fort (just north of Wilkes-Barre) has been making candy since 1995, and is proud to be a “creative, independent” woman-owned business. Edley founded the company with her son Neil, and they specialize in gift boxes for occasions like Christmas or Hanukkah.
Our state may not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of maple syrup, but the Dewees family, who work their sugar bush (a plantation of sugar maples) in northeastern Warren Center, PA, might change that. Any sweet-tooth would enjoy a gift box from Whiskey Hollow Maple. Highlights include maple syrup slow aged in rum or whiskey barrels from Pennsylvania distilleries, pure maple candy, and a $25 “Syrup Flight” featuring three different flavors.
For Kids and Fur-Kids
Philadelphia-based “mama-run biz” The Craftship is a great gift idea for families with young children. Founder Steph Kimmel creates themed craft boxes that couldn’t be better for youngsters in quarantine. Tailored for ages 5 to 7, each box comes complete with everything you need for a couple high-quality projects you can do at the kitchen table. These can be purchased individually or on a monthly subscription basis.
“My hope is you and the kiddos in your life get a chance to slow down, connect, and enjoy each other with some crafts,” says Kimmel.
Sometimes, the perfect way to warm hearts over the holidays is to show some love to the dogs. Melmo’s Dog Treats, founded by lifelong dog parent Melissa Morales, makes organic treats perfect for picky or sensitive pooches. Born of strenuous research among dog owners, shelters, and vets, Melmo’s are available in various Philadelphia-area stores, pop-ups (pick up some biscuits at their Christmas Hut on Bethlehem’s Main Street through December 27), and online.
In Ardmore (northwest of downtown Philadelphia), Kate Coffin makes custom dog collars, including one-of-a-kind designs combining sturdy nylon with repurposed vintage ribbons. She founded Otis & Roo in 2008 (named for a Basset Hound mix and a calico cat, both rescues). Before she launched her own business, Coffin worked as a veterinary tech with the ASPCA. That work still inspires her business model today, which sends a portion of the proceeds to animal-rescue organizations.
This article was previously published on Keystone Edge.