Pittsburgh Shopping Treasures

Shopping till you drop doesn't sound exactly like a fun way to spend any day...unless perhaps you have one of those Relax the Back massage chairs that you can collapse into when you get home. Sans $4,000 chair, my erstwhile shopping advice is to p-a-c-e yourself. And, just as importantly, head for places that are fun to visit, where you can find those "OMG-wherever-did-you-find-that" gift.

So with just a few days remaining until Christmas, here are my go-to places in the 'Burgh where I love to go forth and commerce.

Go Forth and Commerce

In the Strip District it's the Society for Contemporary Craft. "Give artfully" is the tagline for the store, which also doubles as a cutting-edge art gallery. From artful wall clocks and walnut clutch bags to handmade baby spoon sets and an alluring array of jewelry, this is a go-to place for special gifts.

Ten Thousand Villages StoreAnother special place to shop is Ten Thousand Villages in Squirrel Hill - just consider the door signage: "A nonprofit store...Fairly traded handicrafts from around the world." The idea behind the store is that it creates opportunities for artisans in developing countries to earn income by bringing their products to market through fair-trade relationships with Ten Thousand Villages. And today there's a network of 390+ retail outlets in the U.S. selling the wares of Ten Thousand Villages.

The selection of world treasures packed into the footprint of their Forbes Avenue shop is amazing. And so are the prices for the unique handmade items for sale — like the $14 handmade baskets from Bangladesh and Vietnam, or the bike chain candle holders from India or $40 mirror from the Philippines. The super nice people who will check you out are volunteers. Talk about gifts that give back!

Full Disclosure Here

I work for VisitPITTSBURGH, which owns and operates the WELCOME Pittsburgh Information Center and Gift Shop located in Fifth Avenue Place, Downtown. And, full disclosure here: I'm an unabashed fan of the shop. After all, what's not to love?

Welcome Center Tee ShirtsMister Rogers Neighborhood t-shirts and Daniel Striped Tiger sippy cups for the grandkids? Check. Pretty and practical dishware and nifty glasses tastefully emblazoned with the "Pittsburgh" moniker for out-of-town family? Got that, too. Cool PGH t-shirts and totes featuring bridges and 90 neighborhoods? Check that, too. It's a go-to place for hostess gifts, kids' stocking stuffers, and sometimes even a beautiful Pittsburgh photo for my own - I mean your own - office.

On the toy front, kids of all ages (meaning adults, too) will love Dragonfly Castle Toys, a tucked-away toy utopia located on Hatfield Street in Lawrenceville. "No batteries. No screens. Pure fun.", reads the sign on the quaint corner shop door. No kidding. Every inch of this darling toy shop is packed with pure fun...from games and kites and guitars for tykes to an amazing book collection and dress-up wear (think amazing masks and cool capes). I love buying local and I love Dragonfly Castle Toys for its quality selection and corner shop location.

Music in the Time of iTunes

Sound Cat Record StoreIn spite of this digital age — perhaps because of this digital age — I can't help but love Dave's Music Mine on the South Side and Sound Cat Records in Bloomfield. Where else can you find Death Cab for Cutie on vinyl, Van Morrison's remastered masterpiece Astral Weeks on CD and a used copy of The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds? Yeah, Amazon, I know. But that online buying experience ain't half the fun as it is buying in these old-school, brick-and-mortar record stores. When I'm in either one of these amazing record shops, I half expect John Cusak or Jack Black to make an appearance to debate a top five list.

I know there's one store that'll never make any top five shopping list for me — and that's Walmart. I don't know if you'd call it bragging rights or sheer stubbornness, but I've never been inside a Walmart. While I clearly don't have much to brag about, my boycott began some 18 years ago when the Greater Pittsburgh Drive In Theatres in North Versailles closed to make room for the big box store. Call me romantic, but I much prefer spending my money in the places that help to make Pittsburgh the treasure that it is today.