I usually start out the holiday season with a modest gift list and a renewed, if fragile, pledge that this year is going to be different. I won't wait until the last minute to buy gifts. (Maybe I'll start early and make my gifts! Fat chance there.) I won't rail against the ever-deepening tar pit of crass commercialism. And I won't, under any circumstance, step foot in a mall. There is nothing to snuff out my flickering holiday spirit and bonhomie than a trip to the mall, any mall.
Yes, malls are convenient in that they offer one-stop shopping, but convenience is just apathy, poor labor conditions and waste in disguise. I want to give (and receive) stuff with a story behind it, other than that it came on a container ship from China.
In reality, I probably won't get my shopping done early this year, and I'll likely slide into a seasonal tirade against holiday commercialism, but I'm committed to shunning the mall and instead supporting independent stores. Fortunately, that's easy to do in the North Bay, with its multitude of great local shops, artists and producers. In that spirit, we present the following guide to some of our favorite local shops, producers and artists. —Stett Holbrook
Ink.Paper.Plate Studio & Shop
Sirima Sataman's printmaking shop in downtown Point Reyes Station is more than just that. It's a gathering space for adults eager to learn something new about printmaking, and maybe jam out a little on some old Townes Van Zandt tunes.
Enter the shop on a typical Saturday afternoon, and Sataman is orchestrating music that's heavy on the ukulele and cowboy chords as she creates extremely cool linocut prints and teaches people to become skilled printmakers themselves. Sataman offers a big list of classes and all sorts of personalized teachable moments on a chalkboard menu behind the counter, and she says a number of people have called this holiday season to inquire about Ye Olde Popular Gift Certificates, which she has a-plenty.
The shop is also a great stop-in for stocking stuffers and holiday cards—lots of cool mini art-makers are on offer, such as a wallet-size watercolor palette spread through a shop that's both a working studio and a retail joint. Sataman only asks that you leave the kids outside or at home. This is an adults-only playground where you can learn to create letterpress greeting cards, set type and make your own dang poster. Sataman can help you transfer screen-print artwork onto fabric—scarves, dishtowel, whatever you got—and also offers a class called Scrappy Little Books, which is all about the art of bookbinding. In the era of Kindle, no less. Classes run Wednesday through Sunday. 11401 Hwy. 1, Point Reyes Station. inkpaperplate.com.—Tom Gogola
In the food- and drink-obsessed North Bay, you really can't do better than the Shed, an impeccably curated store that celebrates a life well lived, be it in the garden, the kitchen or at the table. To be sure, not everything is locally made. There are dowry-worthy garden tools, beekeeping supplies, and what is surely the North Bay's top spot for Japanese knives, garden tools, rice cookers and donabe (fire proof clay) cookware.
The countertop donabe smoker ($250) is at the top of my wish list. The pantry section of the store is like a museum of the world's best condiments, spices, oils, vinegar and chocolates. Choose a bottle from the lineup of local olive oils for a great locally grown and made gift. There's a small but well-chosen selection of food and drink books too. Oh, and how about a little cloth bag of locally grown wheat, milled in-house? It pretty much comes in its own stocking. The modern, creek-side building (which won a James Beard Award for architectural design) and the superb restaurant are no slouches either. 25 North St., Healdsburg. 707.431.7433.—S.H.
47th Annual Industrial Center Building Winter Open Studios
The annual ICB Winter Open Studios, which takes place Dec. 5–6, from 11am to 6pm in the lofts of a historic World War II–era building near the Sausalito waterfront, always provides the opportunity for holiday shoppers to find photography, paintings, sculpture and more by local artists. But this year, the talented community has united to try something new: more than 30 artists will donate pieces of work to benefit Doctors Without Borders.
Taking the theme of migration, the collective effort—envisioned by paper artist Ingrid Butler and organized by oil painter Jennifer Fearon—honors the act of those who leave their homes in search of better lives. The idea came about, Fearon says, to call attention to the international refugee crisis, and to support those currently suffering.
"One of the challenges we have as artists is connecting with larger causes," Fearon says. "As a group, we have an opportunity to do that. Doctors Without Borders is fantastic because their humanitarian aid is completely independent. They give aid to whoever needs it."
A colorful installation (directed by Butler, and in collaboration with ICB artists) of more than 4,000 hand-cut butterflies will symbolize a "movement of hope," and 100 percent of the sales of designated pieces will support Doctors Without Borders' work with refugees and internally displaced people affected by conflict.
Fearon hopes that Open Studios visitors will walk away with a sense that the collaborative ICB artists are aware of, and connected to, the events of the larger world.
"As artists, we have a responsibility to bring awareness of what's going on," she says. "And we're interested in trying to have an impact." 480 Gate 5 Road, Sausalito. icbartists.com. —Molly Oleson
Whenever I read The Boxcar Children books as a child, I imagined a life on the tracks, cozy in a railroad car and solving mysteries. Silly, but every time I visit the Calistoga Depot on Lincoln Avenue in downtown Calistoga, that feeling comes back.
Originally built in 1868 by Napa Valley settler Samuel Brannan, one year before the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, the Calistoga Depot train station and designated California Historical Landmark was restored in 1978 by the Calistoga Depot Association, and today houses six railroad cars containing historical exhibits and retail shops.
One such shop is the Calistoga Wine Stop, located inside a former Central Pacific Railroad car. Operated by Tom and Tammy Pelter since 1986, this family business has been helping customers find Napa and Sonoma County wines that are little off the beaten path. The tasting room, open Thursdays through Mondays, specializes in smaller producers who would not otherwise have their own tasting space. The Wine Stop also has its own family wine, Pelter, a Cabernet Sauvignon that's available exclusively in the depot.
One of the newer shops in the depot is Flowers & All That Jazz, which opened just this year. By the name, its clear that the shop specializes in floral arrangements, and that's true; but the studio and shop, again cozily packed into another train car, also showcases "jazzy" prints, apparel and jewelry by local artisans that will appeal to all ages. There are even custom gift baskets, and many floral arrangements are available in vintage or repurposed pieces for one-of-a-kind displays. 1458 Lincoln Ave., Calistoga. —Charlie Swanson
Since its founding in 1948, Heath Ceramics has been owned by two families, and has expanded from its Sausalito-based factory to showrooms in San Francisco and Los Angeles. But one of the coolest things about shopping locally for the handmade, brightly colored tableware and architectural tile is that you can see exactly how it's all produced by a team of 40 craftspeople.
Inside the historic 15,000-square-foot factory, nestled among artist studios and designed by Marquis & Stoller, is a behind-the-scenes glimpse of how clay is made, and where product shapes are formed, glazed, trimmed and fired.
Check out Heath's bold, seasonal classical red collection, meant to "bring warmth indoors when it's cold outside," and flip through the new Tile Makes the Room, a book featuring the work of the world's leading designers and architects.
Working tours of the factory are offered on Fridays and Saturdays, and visitors can even score near-perfect dinnerware that's discounted because it didn't meet quality standards—evidence that these guys care deeply about their craft. 400 Gate 5 Road, Sausalito. heathceramics.com.—M.O.