It's that time of the year again. Time for me to wake up in a cold sweat, realizing that it's December already, and that I have exactly zero ideas for gifts. Yes, when it comes to that famous holiday tradition, I am among the least capable of men. A true paragon of last-minute panic gift wrapping and generalized holiday agony: that's me.
Yet somehow, I’ve scraped by all these years. My gift shopping process may be chaotic, but I do have the good fortune of living in a city where even a lollygagger such as myself can acquire a gift for every occasion and taste. I speak from experience when I say gift shopping in Asheville, especially downtown Asheville, makes for a pleasant afternoon, even if you’re down to the wire.
When I really don’t know what I’m setting out to buy, downtown Asheville’s Mast General Store is always my first choice. I mean, they call it a general store for a reason. Attire, handmade soap, outdoorsy knives, outdoorsy attire, candy (flawless stocking-stuffer); it's all there and more. Enter with an open mind and let the spirit of the season take you on a wild shopping journey.
Plus, it lies just south of downtown’s center, filled with restaurants, local sights, and of course, more shops. Not a bad place to start off.
Nearest Hot Drink: Double D’s Coffee & Desserts, a couple blocks to the south. They’ve got some downright seasonal mochas: peppermint, white chocolate, and red chili cinnamon.
Hold on to your seats one and all: we’re doubling this entry. If you’re gift shopping in Asheville, local art should be at the top of your list. Kress Emporium and Horse + Hero—two of my favorite local galleries—lie just across an intersection from each other. I couldn’t mention one without mentioning the other but let me be clear: I’m not quite lumping them in together.
Kress Emporium is filled to the brim with booths for arts and crafts of every kind: ceramics, photography, home décor, etc. If a relative intimates they’d like a gift of local art, I go to Kress.
But if I’m gift shopping for say, one of my art-school friends, I go to Horse + Hero. In a word: it’s funkier. Psychedelic prints, slick stickers; surrealism for a reasonable price.
Nearest Hot Drink: French Broad Chocolate lounge, back east across Pack Square.
I like rocks and Downtown Asheville’s Cornerstone Minerals has them in abundance. From centerpieces to pocket-sized, from uncut, to set in jewelry, it's my personal motto that “For every man, there is a rock.” I like to stick them in people’s stockings. They’re expecting coal, but surprise! It's a fossilized thingamajig. Gets them every time.
If you’re really lost in all these geology, I’ve got the silver bullet for you: birth stones. Your significant other will think you both educated and refined, I guarantee it.
Nearest Hot Drink: Dobra Tea. It’s a bit of a walk, but if you’re downtown, it ought to be on your itinerary anyways.
What am I buying my mother this year? I don’t know yet. But I do know I’m probably going to find it at Ten Thousand Villages. They specializes in fair-trade merchandise from across the globe. Year after year, they’ve got my back. Past success stories contain a pair of mudra candleholders, handmade in Bangladesh. I don’t even burn candles and I wish I’d gotten some for myself.
Once your business is concluded at 10,000 Villages, you’ll find yourself at the cusp of Patton Avenue, one of the best places in downtown for dining. Gift shopping in Asheville is, after all, hungry work.
Nearest Hot Drink: The Times Bar & Coffee Shop.
If all else fails, I say you can always count on gifting someone a book. Now I could be far off the mark here. Not everyone’s an avid reader. But I like books, and I think I’ve got an eye for books people would like. Malaprops has a fine selection, helpful staff, and “blind date books,” their contents unknown. You can be as surprised as the person you bought it for.
If in the unlikely event you can’t find the right book at Malaprop’s, one of my favorite things about gift shopping in Asheville is that there’s a downright glut of bookstores. Downtown Books & News for used and rare items, the Grove Arcade’s Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar, take your pick.
Nearest Hot Drink: Malaprop’s Café, right in the store. Its an all-in-one solution.
Mast General Store
15 Biltmore Ave, Asheville, NC 28801
19 Patton Ave, Asheville, NC 28801
Horse + Hero
14 Patton Ave, Asheville, NC 28801
Cornerstone Minerals (828)-225-3888
52 N Lexington Ave, Asheville, NC 28801
Ten Thousand Village
10 College St, Asheville, NC 28801
55 Haywood St, Asheville, NC 28801