Wrap up your shopping with a gift to the town – buy local

It’s 48 hours before Christmas and you still haven’t bought gifts for everyone you had intended to for the holidays. Do you go through your own possessions to find a gift, run to the mall, or visit the web, trying to buy enough at one web site to qualify for free shipping?

Whether it is last minute pre holiday or more relaxed post holiday shopping, Highland Park merchants encourage local residents to mosey on down to Raritan Avenue,  get some exercise, fresh air and friendly conversation,  and purchase presents perfect for your favorite friends and family. Highland Park retailers have you covered, whether you’re shopping for desk jockeys, a social justice warrior, or even your favorite pooch. Plus there are toys.

Americans this holiday season are expected to spend an average $720 per adult, according to a Gallup poll. Studies long have established the benefits to a local economy when consumers concentrate their shopping on locally owned businesses rather than national retail chains. On its web site, the American Independent Business Alliance reports that independent retailers return to the local economy more than triple the money per dollar of sales than their chain competitors do.

One of the more interesting items available this year is the NUC. Manufactured by Intel, the NUC – its name stands for Next Unit of Computing – is a small block that can be mounted on the back of a monitor. It’s a small block – 4 inches long and 4 inches wide and about an inch deep – that weighs less than 2½ pounds but with core I5 processor and 8 gigabytes of memory purportedly packs the punch of a full-size computer.

“If you don’t have desk space, this mounts on the back of your monitor and gives you all the function of a whole computer,” said Michael Beberman, owner of Cyber Knight. “It just gives you greater ability to upgrade, to do it with more ease.”

If computers are too pricey – a NUC can still cost $750, and custom-made machines can run from $700 to $2,000 – there are other, cheaper items for the techno-geek in your life. Anyone who has tried to play music from a smart phone knows how easily that music is swallowed up by an open space.

True, you could connect your smart phone or tablet to a stereo, but there is also the Magic Box. It takes no cable, requires no WiFi, needs no Bluetooth. Just put your smart phone on the Magic Box, and hit play.

“It amplifies enough that if you put it in on a table, and put on music it fills the whole room,” said Mr. Beberman.

If your loved ones include a pet – and no family is complete without at least one – Highland Bark is another stop you could make on your trip around the borough. Owned and run by Catherine Biebelberg, Highland Park sells the standard toys and kosher dog treats. Plus, if you want to give your best friend a special treat for the holiday season, the dog food there is a cut above traditional fare.

“It’s all natural,” said customer Lisabeth Klein of South Second Avenue, who had dropped into the store Friday afternoon with a Great Pyrenees named Einstein. “The stuff you can’t find in the bigger pet stores, she has, so I don’t have to go all the way to Princeton.”

If your dog has hung a stocking by the chimney in hopes that if not St. Nicholas then at least somebody soon will be there, there are a number of stocking-stuffers you can get for the pooch: toy bones, balls and those previously mentioned kosher dog treats.

There are of course families that cannot have pets, because of allergies, living arrangements or other concerns. For those families, and for others whose hearts are bigger than just their own pets, Highland Bark is participating in a Holiday Angels program that benefits rescue animals waiting for homes of their own.

“Someone could come in and buy things, and give them to Catherine,” said Ms. Klein. “She sets them aside and the rescues get them at the end of the month.”

Dogs and cats, geeks and the socially minded aside, the prevailing image of Christmas is one of small children waking bright and early to rush for their toys. And of course, Highland Park has toy retailers, and they sell old standbys like plastic Flexible Flyer sleds, games and puzzles.

Some familiar toys have a twist to contemporary sensibilities, like the Green Toys tea set. Made from recycled plastic bottles, the plates in the set are safe to eat from, and the Green Toys boats actually float right-side up – a novelty to adults who came of age in the 1970s and remember boats that floated only on their sides or upside-down.

If educational toys are your thing, there are science kits to ignite a child’s interest in rocket science or to spark her curiosity about electricity. One of the more standout toys is GoldieBlox, a set of construction and engineering toys reminiscent of Tinker Toys but marketed specifically to girls.

“When you go through the books, it uses real names like axles and washers and wheels,” said Jenni Chapman, co-owner of Over the Moon Toys. “It does not use goofy names. It uses what they’re really called.”

And for holiday shoppers who want to make a difference in the world, there is always Ten Thousand Villagers with its focus on fair trade. All items in Ten Thousand Villages come from artisan communities in 38 different developing nations. Workers receive half their wages before they make the items, so they don’t have to go into debt; and then receive the remainder once the items are ready to ship.

The result is a developing economy where artisans work for themselves and the nonprofit organization behind Ten Thousand Villages acts as a distributor. The store carries reliable stocking-stuffers like handmade scarves, small soaps and chocolate untainted by slave labor, but with the deadline looming for holiday shopping the big seller on Monday afternoon was jewelry.

“Most people will come in and buy earrings,” said Jessica Lemere, the store manager. “This time of year, they’re saying, ‘The necklace looks good with it.”

For shoppers concerned about the frequently dangerous sweatshop conditions where many holiday purchases are made, or the underpaid workers who manufacture them, Ten Thousand Villagers presents a way to feel as good about your purchase its intended recipient will feel about getting it.

“Every purchase makes a difference, no matter how small it may be,” said Ms. Lemere. “Our main mission is to create an opportunity for artisans who otherwise might not be able to have a job.

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