Last week I spent four days Christmas shopping. I went to several different towns. It’s interesting how different an experience can be based on where you are. I thought I’d share.
I went to Novato, in Marin County, and did some shopping on Grant Avenue. I went there because my friend Brandy manages the Copperfield’s there. Brandy was not working that day, but her staff were knowledgeable and helpful. The store is large and airy (lots of windows, lots of light) and beautifully laid out. I especially liked the children’s section, which has a bright carpet on the floor and is very inviting. I only have one set of children to buy books for now, and so I’ve lost track of the kids’-book market; their children’s section has a lot of books faced out and several display tables, making it much easier to browse and decide.
Young Adult is in a different part of the store, near Speculative Fiction. This is smart for several reasons. Young adults identify with the word “adult” in that phrase; lots of adults read YA these days and there is a lot of crossover with speculative fiction.
After I bought gifts there I headed for the toy store called Five Little Monkeys. They have stores in Albany and Walnut Creek; here is their website. Like many toy stores I’ve been in, this one was long and narrow with really tall shelves, which seems strange for a toy store. I’m sure the long-narrow bit is strictly about what the proprietor can afford for rent. The store was packed with cool things and popular things. I found a Lego toy I was looking for. Again, cheerful, if slightly harried, staff. It turned out their mail-out catalogue had gone out over the weekend, and they were flooded with locals taking advantage of discounts. It was great to see.
There are about a hundred restaurants on Grant Street. Okay, that’s an exaggeration. There are lots, but I didn’t eat there, so I can’t recommend anything. I went on a weekday and found parking without too much trouble, but that may have just been good luck. There is no charge for parking on the street and there is a two-hour limit.
Grant Avenue has a definite “retro” vibe; the street feels like 1963-1974, even with the newer buildings.
When I go to Petaluma in December, it’s not only for Brian’s Comics and Copperfield’s; it’s about Marisa’s Christmas Fantasia, a year-round Christmas and holiday store. The first day I was there was a weekday, and while the store was bulging with themed ornaments, lights, tree skirts and gift figurines, it wasn’t crowded with customers. They had some unusual ornaments, and lots of pretty things. I was standing on the other side of the hunter-themed tree, which has stags-head ornaments, Adirondack chairs, plaid hunting jackets, and Santa carrying a shotgun. Two women were on the other side of the tree. “Oh, a shotgun-shell ornament,” one of them said, “That’s festive.”
I found present-topper ornaments and then went across the hall to the part of the shop that is more gift-based. I admired but did not buy a package of gift tags (and then later in the week I went back and did buy them).
I walked through the hallway that comes out on Kentucky Avenue and walked up to Brian’s Comics, where I found the perfect comic collection for someone on my list, and I had good luck at the Petaluma Copperfield’s, too. I ate at Zazzle, which is where I always eat when I’m in Petaluma Old Town. And, as always, it was delicious.
Parking is free and there is a two-hour limit.
Having had two pleasant and successful shopping treks, I shouldn’t have been two surprised that shopping in Santa Rosa was like entering a circle of hell. Not one of the really bad circles of hell, but still, definitely in the running. There were two exceptions: Shutterbug Camera on Santa Rosa Avenue had parking, and as always their behind-the-counter folks were friendly and could get an answer for any question I had. And, in west Santa Rosa the art supply store Riley Street was an oasis of peace and creativity. In between, however, was a city that does not recommend itself for holiday shopping.
I did not go to the downtown mall. I fought traffic to the north end of town, to Coddingtown, where there had once been a crafts store. It is closed. That is on me; I should have researched that. I drove even farther north to Joanne’s on Industrial Drive. They have put out most of their Christmas themed stuff, and while I didn’t find what I wanted, I found stuff that would work for what I wanted. Clerks were pleasant but the trip was not fun. Their store is huge, and their parking lot is huge but the location makes getting in and out of it more of a challenge than I needed.
I would love to shop Railroad Square and Fourth Street, which has antique stores, quirky shops, great gift stores like Corrick’s and Treehorn’s Used Books, and a nice Thai Restaurant called Khoom Lanna in Railroad Square, but Santa Rosa charges for parking, which means they will always be my last resort.
Before the month is out I will probably visit Sonoma, which has some great stores around the plaza. I can rarely afford anything there, but it’s fun to go look, and they all decorate beautifully. I’ll also go to Healdsburg, which is also pricey but pretty. Neither Sonoma nor Healdsburg charge for parking. Neither does Sebastopol.
Anyway, my trip to Santa Rosa was unpleasant, but I saved Riley Street for the end, and it was a restorative.