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The holiday shopping season is well underway. And sure, everybody loves a sale with extra discount coupons, right? But how about purchasing from stores that are locally owned or operated, affordable and unique to our two towns? Some of them even have their own sales going on right now! Where are these places, you might ask?

Well, we here at Smile Politely have put together a small list of local joints that are chock-full of great gifts for a variety of those who made your “nice” list. We even found a place in town for those who’ve made the naughty list too!

So, get out your preferred method of payment and shop away! Your local economy will thank you.

For the Music Fanatic in Your Life:

You can’t deny just how cool this kind of cool is. Parasol Records is quite possibly the most important of all the online music stores in the world. Not because they sell the most records or have the largest or most diverse selection in the world either. They are that important because they truly revolutionized the way people purchase music. Us? We live here, and get to shop from them the old fashioned way. Visit their in-office store at 303 W. Griggs St. in downtown Urbana. It’s a bit hidden, but aren’t all things this cool hard to find?

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Let’s all thank the good Lord for Exile on Main St. It’s so much more than a record store and that lends to it’s credibility as an important part of the commercial fabric of downtown Champaign. Walk in, and you’ll see that you can play Joust, the old arcade game, for free on the left. Look ahead and try not to buy that Atari1400 sitting on the shelf. Look right, and feel free to browse through the best selection of music mags in downstate Illinois. Need a movie? Fuck Best Buy. They’ve got them here for the same price (for the most part). Frequent it often enough, and Jeff will call you by name, and hook you up with deals and steals more often than not. That’s local.

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For the Hipster Spinster:

Needleworks offers rooms full of yarn, an extensive choice of knitting needles, shelves full of patterns and techniques, and a warm and helpful staff willing to assist you whether you’re casting on your first garter-stitch scarf or in need of help turning the heel of your latest cabled intarsia sock. Gift certificates are also available, as well as a large stock of needlepoint supplies for those on your list who haven’t caught on that knitting is totally the new yoga.

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All things considered, if we were going to hand out an award to the best remodeling job in town this year, it would probably go to Sarah and Co. at Dandelion. The new look is a perfect complement to the sometimes funky, sometimes outrageous, but always tasty selection of clothing, shoes and accessories that she hunts down, prices fairly and displays for all of us to browse and eventually purchase. Missing out on that old pair of Levi’s 517’s from the 70’s? They have ‘em. Sick of that bulge in your husband’s… back pocket? Dandelion has a wide range of money clips from $18–$26. One of our absolute favorite stops downtown, year after year.

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For the Conflicted Urbanite Making a Temporary Home in Small-Time C-U:

At Hardy’s Reindeer Ranch Barn Gift Shop (in Rantoul), the bulk of their store is giftables and ornaments. All of their holiday trim is divided up into themes, such as Santas, vintage Coca-Cola accessories, angels, penguins and the like. If you just want a knick-knack to sip on, grab a couple mini-tins of Hot Chocolate ($2.99 and up) or just cut to the chase and purchase the entire set of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer ornaments. After all, there are real reindeer just outside, waiting for you to say hello to them.

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Art Mart can’t keep the Thymes Frasier Fir Single Jar Candle ($25) on the shelf. Don’t be fooled by cheap Christmas tree scented candles. Thymes Candles smell like the real deal. Art Mart ran out of these hot items multiple times but if you hurry, you can snatch a few for yourself and a friend! And check out Champaign-Urbana’s most intense selection of olives, cheeses and meats for the foodie in your life while you are there as well.

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For the Fine Art & Drink Connoisseur:

In the Krannert Center’s Promenade Gift Shop, you will not find brands that you have heard of in mass-produced stores. But you will find gourmet sweets, interesting trinkets, and all sorts of potential presents for the artist or musician scheduled to sing out holiday cheer for you and yours this season. Oh, and feel free to stop by the ticket office too. Nothing says “Happy Holidays” quite like an orchestra row seat to see “Swan Lake”.

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Walnut Street Tea Co. gives you little room to move about the store and a whole hell of a lot of choices for teas, coffees, chocolates, and whatnots. This could be great for your grandmother but let’s get real: it’s extremely cold outside and everyone likes a warm cup of “something” to ail what chills you.

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For the “Everything Must Be Homemade” Guy / Gal:

Forget the old fruit cake. Prairie Fruits Farm is an organic fruit and sustainable cheese farm that carries the freshest and most delicious goat cheese in the area. While they are still working on their online shop, make sure to check out their Where To Purchase Our Products section to find places around town and pick something up for your Christmas Eve celebration.

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For those needing a big ol’ dose of Americana in their lives, Olde Brick Wall (in Arcola) is the place to go for handmade jams to Amish furniture to vintage flags. In the spirit of something that is anything but metropolitan, it’s nice to be able to check places like this out, and indulge in an era that is more yesterday than today or tomorrow.

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**“You Know, For Kids!”:**

Sailfin Pet Shop carries the largest selection of freshwater fish in all of Illinois. Beat that Chicago! If you don’t feel like bringing an exotic pet home with you, maybe bring the kids in for a trip to the closest thing C-U has to a zoo. Open since before the last time the Illini went to the Rose Bowl, there is no place quite like this one. There might be better ways to say Happy Holidays than with fish, but we couldn’t think of any one more unique.

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At the Orpheum Children’s Science Museum Gift Shop you can find gifts as inexpensive as a quarter! Best Sellers? A Robo-Hand ($5) great for kids to experiment with mechanics or for lazy people who habitually drop things. Go for the standard Periodic Table of Elements ($4) or get one in 3-D ($10) which were donated and made by local artist, Theo Gray. Or you could opt for a Family Membership ($40) good for one year of admissions for four adults and six children. Currently, they’re offering buy one Family Membership, get another Family Membership half off ‘til the end of December. Can’t beat that kind of deal anywhere in town, let alone the state!

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Art Mart photo courtesy of Herbert Brant