Have Yourself a Merry Local Christmas

By Diane White McNaughton

“Daddy, we have to walk slow, so we don’t miss anything.”

These words of wisdom from a jubilant four-year-old in a puffy coat and sneakers about sums it up when strolling over 8,000 square feet of hardwood floors and jam-packed shelves in Hummelstown’s Toys on the Square.  

Permitted to buy one toy from tens of thousands of options, the boy’s excitement at the possibilities, and the magic of shopping local, were as clear as the twinkling lights in the storefront window.

The window also showcased a giant stuffed giraffe, straddled by Arthur the Aardvark, a tall pink stuffed flamingo, and a vintage train display with an authentic village, like the light-up platforms of yesteryear. Books, Barbies, dolls, dress-up clothes, activity and craft sets, puppets, Playmobil sets, Lego’s, vintage toys from the ‘60s, and more—it’s all there for festive gifting. A pottery classroom is also tucked in the back. 

The one-of-a-kind store is truly FAO Schwartz meets Mayberry RFD. 

Nothing makes you feel like you are starring in a Hallmark Channel holiday special quite like a walk down the wind-swept, snow-covered streets of smalltown America in search of the perfect gift. Duck inside a quaint local shop with a chatty store owner, in so many walkable retail districts in Lititz, Hummelstown, Mechanicsburg, Camp Hill, and more. Our local Main Streets deliver a winter wonderland, offering up trendy fashion boutiques, toy stores, local artisans, gourmet pastries, and top-notch eateries. 

Amazon may help us quick-click items on our loved ones’ wish list. Target and Costco may feature everything from appliances to zucchini bread under one roof. But during a time that has tried our souls, why not shop “home” for the holidays?

Shopping local is a triple victory. You can find unique gifts for your loved ones, support your local business owners/neighbors and their families during a very unmerry financial time, and ring up some free homegrown charm and nostalgia for yourself.

Margaret Miller, owner of Three Little Birds Boutique in Mechanicsburg, Hershey and State College, says, “More than ever, we are battling online shopping.” With the pandemic, many customers now have ample time to scroll through screen after screen of national retailers from home.

“You are going to spend money anyway,” she says. “Why not spend it where someone invests in you?”

“When you walk in our store, we are excited to see you,” Miller says. Even though they offer online buying options and free shipping, “Shopping local is like shopping with family, shopping with friends.”

She knows what kind of pants would be dressy but comfy enough for an active teacher or a first-time mom. She can help hapless husbands shop for their wives —she knows their size and style— and she has seen three generations of shoppers all come in to find something perfect.

This holiday season, business owners welcome you with incredible deals and open doors, if not open arms. From clothing, candles, coffees and candies to trinkets, toys, and technology, local stores have the magical gifts for the holidays: diamond rings, downy robes, TVs, weighted blankets, delicious edibles, and more for under the tree.

You can also find furniture, olive oil, original art, plants, fine literature, sports memorabilia, and the coveted product of the times: antibacterial wipes and hand sanitizer.

Just a short stroll up Main Street in Hummelstown rests Rhoads Pharmacy, two floors teeming with Hallmark items, women’s clothing, jewelry, and decorating ideas. Operated for decades by David B. Lutz, the store just seems to go on and on into room after room of the beautiful, fragrant and sparkling.  Whether you want patriotic items; something for the pet-lover, gourmet cook, or fashionista in your life; farmhouse décor; seasonal decorating items; clever mugs and signs; blankets; purses; or bath and body products, the shop is a veritable giftapalooza.

Accessed by an elevator, the second floor is now full of clearance items, up to 75 percent off, including women’s clothing, wreaths, Yankee candles, wall hangings, frames, baby clothes, and more. 

You know you are in for something special when you see a life-size reindeer in the window, “Santa” sitting by the back fireplace, slender evergreen trees with white lights, and white birch trees with lights wrapped around their bare branches.  Thick white snowflakes dangle from the ceiling.

“What brings you in here?” asks the cashier as he rings up a patron.

She came with her husband for breakfast at Bill’s across the street, and stumbled upon the shop.

“It’s so beautiful in here!” she marveled.

Also on Main Street is Bowser’s Furniture, operated since 1932, a flower shop, a candy shop, a pizza shop, and a jewelry shop, serving up gift options galore.

If you want something to delight the taste buds, many mid-state chocolate and coffee shops are ready to give you the caffeine and sugar fix your loved ones crave.

The founder of Frederic Loraschi Chocolate, on Hillcrest Road, Lower Paxton Township, learned his craft from some of the greatest chefs in Europe. From southwestern France, he worked at Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel as assistant pastry chef, and as executive pastry chef at the Hotel Hershey. In 2005, he started his chocolate company in Hershey. He now owns a 5,000- square-feet facility in Harrisburg, with five employees producing approximately seven tons of chocolates a year.  Selected “Best Chocolatier in North America” in 2011 and second best at the US Selection for the World Chocolate Masters in 2010, Loraschi was one of the first chocolatiers to have pioneered and created the trend of hand-painted chocolate bonbons.

One day a week, he wakes up at 4 a.m. to travel to New York City to pick up his premium ingredients.

He came to America in late 1999 “with nothing in my pocket,” he says, sleeping on the bare floor of his apartment.

One of his proudest moments, beside marrying his wife and the birth of his two boys, was becoming an American citizen.

He learned chocolate in France, Spain, Luxembourg, and Singapore, home of the finest chocolate in the world.

“Small businesses are suffering” at the hands of Amazon, he says. “I know my customers, I know their names. I know what they like, and I have a relationship with them.”

Popular holiday items include his signature gift box, in packs of 8 and 16. 

From chocolate bars as a stocking stuffer, up to a massive $200 gift box, “It’s important for me to have something for everyone,” he says.

“You can see us working,” he says, thanks to the store’s glass windows. The candy is not mass-produced in China. 

Loraschi has been perfecting his artisan chocolate since the age of 14. He is now 46. 

What makes his chocolate unique? 

“It’s not the brand of chocolate, it’s who’s making it,” he insists.

Other delectable holiday sweets can be found at Macri’s, Little Essie Mae Sweets Shoppe, Brittle Bark, and the new Cocoa Creek Chocolates in Camp Hill. Also, Zimmerman’s Nuts and Candies and Mantagos Chocolates in Harrisburg have quite a selection for those with a sweet tooth.

For coffee lovers, gift them a jolt of java from the new Fix Café by the Capitol, Lonely Monk in Lemoyne, Little Amps, Elementary Coffee, and Cornerstone Coffee in Camp Hill.

Clothing is also a great way to give someone a merry little Christmas.

Miller, a mother of three in Mechanicsburg, has operated three locations of Three Little Birds Boutique for the past three years. 

Her favorite gift ideas include:

• Loungewear. With so many people teleworking today, pajama sets are selling fast. They are “super soft and cozy, and the prints are fun,” in patterns such as dogs, stars, and hearts.

• Stickers. For teens and college kids, $3 stickers show off their personality for their Yeti bottles and hydroflasks.

• Slim can cooler sleeves for seltzer wines like White Claw and Cuzzies with funny sayings are an inexpensive buy at $10 or $12 each.

• Cozy socks

• Candles with a winter theme

• Face mask chains. Miller says, while they don’t want to profit from face masks, they do sell mask chains to help busy ladies not lose their masks.

“It’s a place where not only clients feel valued, but our girls feel safe. It feels like home. We take care of each other. We take care of our clients.” 

She emphasizes that this is not Target; they know their customers. It is a “true boutique experience.”

Three Little Birds offers a Day with Daddy this year, where 80 percent of their jewelry is reduced to $10; tops are $20; kids could drink in some deals for mom then drink in some hot chocolate at the end. 

“A click of a button is always easy on the internet, but taking the time to go out and specifically look with that person in mind means so much more,” Miller says. 

“Shopping small is finding cute little presents you just don’t see anywhere, and there’s that brief moment that you realize, “She thought of me when she bought it,” reflecting “the time and effort you put in.”

Both mom and daughter can shop together for Girls Day, and Black Friday will span multiple Fridays this year.  

“Everyone leaves with something,” Miller says.

She herself loves to shop local also, at venues like The Shoppe on Chocolate in Hershey, the woman-owned One Good Woman, and “Swedish,” a delightful candy shop in Lancaster. 

For other original gifts, experienced shoppers recommend the Millworks and its 32 artisans, along with the stands at the West Shore Farmers’ Market and historic Broad Street Market.

And give a delicious gift that lasts long into 2021.

The Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association asks that you buy gift cards to restaurants, which can be used for take-out, and don’t have to be used immediately.  

“Those whose holiday shopping list includes gift cards from local taverns and restaurants will not only give their loved ones and friends wonderful gifts, but they’ll also bring hope for better days to an industry that is fighting for survival,” wrote Chuck Moran, the association’s Executive Director, in a recent letter to the editor. 

Gift cards from Alvaro’s. Greystone, Gabriella’s, Progress Grille, and the new Watershed Restaurant bring special holiday joy to the world. 

Back at Toys on the Square, a slender employee in a colored dress shirt, jacket, and tie covered with colorful billiard balls, was zooming around the store aisles on a scooter.  

“I could buy everything in this store,” one shopper told him.

“We’ll let you do that!” he replied enthusiastically.

But in the end, volume doesn’t matter. At this most wonderful time of the year, we are not just buying gifts. We are buying an experience. We are conjuring up childhood memories and making new ones.  We are giving. We are helping. 

We are walking slow, so we don’t miss anything.