Tri-City stores expecting big shopping day

Retailers expect one of the biggest shopping days of the year today, and Mid-Columbia shopkeepers are encouraging people buy local.

From locally made chocolate to handcrafted jewelry and ceramics, store owners hope Tri-Citians seek out unique and usual gifts this holiday shopping season.

Ellen Hunter, owner of Ariel Gourmet & Gifts, said she enjoys being able to give a gift that she can say was made in the Mid-Columbia.

Her Richland store offers local foods such as Chukar Cherries and Pasta Mama's and a selection of regional wines.

Ariel also offers gift boxes featuring Eastern Washington or Washington state products, ranging in price from $29 to $46.

But one of biggest sellers this season is a water pitcher that gurgles as it pours.

At the Country Mercantile a few miles north of Pasco, local Fuji apples -- whether plain or smothered in homemade caramel -- are a popular gift. The caramel ones sell for $4 each.

"It seems like people like to get things that they can eat," said Monique Kaas, one of the store's managers.

An assortment of the Country Mercantile's chocolates also are offered in pre-made or made-to-order gift boxes starting at $19.95.

Of course, sometimes a gift that glitters might be what shoppers are looking for instead.

If so, Touchstone Jewelers in Kennewick offers everything from diamond earrings to local and custom-made jewelry, said co-owner Sharon McAlmond.

And their trinket boxes that look like frogs, zebras and other animals are popular, she said.

"Everyone likes them, the little kids and the big kids," she said. They start at $35.

Looking for more big kid toys? Craftsman tools are being offered for the first time at Grigg's Department Store in Pasco and at the Ace Hardware stores in Richland, said store Vice President Charlie Grigg.

Fishing tackle is another of their popular gifts, he said.

And those who have put off their Christmas shopping until now, you have a chance at a special event from 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday at Richland's Allied Arts Gallery.

Bob Allen, with the nonprofit Allied Arts Association, said the gallery is offering the event for the first time with last-minute shoppers in mind.

From handmade beaded jewelry priced from $35 to ceramics such as coffee cups, decorative bowls and plates starting at $20.

"Everything is an original work of art," he said. And they are offering free gift wrapping Sunday.

Those with more whimsical tastes can try The Octopus' Garden in the Uptown Shopping Center in Richland.

Owner Gus Sako said a favorite this year are the 30-inch magnetic mustaches for your car's "nose."

"It's like mustaches are this year's bacon," he said. They start at $10.

Marbles also have seen a resurgence among the younger set.

And this year, along with the always popular Hanford-themed shirts, they are selling Atomic Fuel Handlers Union mugs that say: "Caution, this may be hot. You better let us handle it."

Also at the Uptown mall, Aunt Franny's Toys sells novel children's gifts.

The Green Toy tea sets and packs of dishes and silverware are made from corn-based plastic, said owner Frances Finfrock.

For adults, there's Catan, a popular strategy board game, or an inflatable flying shark. The remote-controlled helium balloon looks like a shark, including fins and tail.

"It's pretty amusing," she said.

When a customer buys a toy, Finfrock said her store donates a toy to Toys for Tots.

That's one of the reasons people should consider spending local, she said. Local retailers tend to be generous with their donations, in addition to employing local workers.

The money spent at those stores boosts more than just sales taxes, she said.

Sako agreed, "It keeps money in the community."

Some other locally owned stores that other business owners recommend include: Adventures Underground in Richland, The Bookworm in Kennewick and Richland, Richland's Cheese Louise, Wild Goose Design in Richland, Greenies in Richland, Image Collection in Kennewick, Full Throttle Motorcycle Accessories in Kennewick and Sunken Treasures Games in Richland.