Made Here, Paid Here
Great gifts made in Erie
Small business Saturday has come and gone, but the spirit of shopping local lingers like a hangover in the midst of perpetual holiday fetes. And there's plenty of reason to embrace it.
If you didn't get a chance to swing by the Made In Erie Marketplace hosted by the Bayfront East Side Taskforce on Thanksgiving weekend, all is not lost. You can check out many of the participating vendors on the Made in Erie Marketplace Facebook page. You'll help support the burgeoning Maker Movement that's gaining traction across the region and looks poised to have a strong 2016.
Events like this Marketplace provide local entrepreneurs a great opportunity to get in on the holiday action, but they also accentuate the variety of skilled artisans, artists, and moonlight moguls who dot our local landscape.
With that in mind, we wanted to highlight a few – just a few – of our favorite items that not only make great gifts, but are also made in our own backyard.
($ = under $50, $$ = $50-$75, $$$ = $75-$100, $$$$ = over $100)
RLB Art Box Studio ($-$$$$)
Has your brother ever wanted to replicate the Kandinsky that hangs in dad's study? Or has mom mentioned that she'd like to make faux stained glass out of paper to mirror the rose window above your entryway? The RLB Art Box Studio may be just the solution.
The Art Box Studio is a monthly subscription service that delivers all the artistic tools you'll need for one great art project. Whether the medium is pastels, watercolors, craft paper, or pencils, the box contains supplies and instructions to get you started.
Don't assume this craft kit is for kids. Each box is designed for teens and adults, but there are options available for younger kids ages 5-12. One month subscriptions begin at just $25, but if you're committed to art and the person receiving it, you can pre-order up to two years in advance. Check out the total package at rlbartboxstudio.com.
Brewerie at Union Station, Lavery Brewing Company, Erie Ale Works, Erie Brewing Company, Millcreek Brewing Company, Sprague Farm & Brew Works, Voodoo Brewing, Blue Canoe Brewery, TimberCreek Tap & Table
There are nine great craft brewers in northwestern Pennsylvania, and we rightfully and routinely celebrate the trade and all the joy it brings. Give the gift of liquid gold – in one of its many varieties – and share the love.
Here are a couple of ideas to get you started: The holidays are a great time to initiate new members into the annual mug clubs at Brewerie at Union Station ($35) and Lavery Brewing ($50). Membership has its privileges including Tuesday night specials at the Brewerie for card-carrying members of the mug club, not to mention the couple extra ounces you get in that big ass stein. Lavery mug club members get a free pint on Wednesdays. Both Lavery and Brewerie have end-of-year parties at which you can renew your membership and from which you walk away with your collectible mug. It's the gift that keeps on giving.
If mugs aren't your thing, there's plenty of other great swag ($) to go around. Whether you're ringing the cowbell at Voodoo Brewery in Meadville, playing a round of disc golf behind Sprague Farm and Brew Works in Venango, or taking the taste testing tour at Erie Brewing Company, you'll feel like part of the team in branded gear from one of these fine breweries.
And what better way to show gratitude to your holiday party hosts than with a branded growler ($) filled with hoppy, heavenly brew. Just a note on etiquette: pour the beer, leave the growler. It's part of the gift and the experience. Who knows, it might even show up refilled on your doorstep someday soon.
If your partner complains because your sleep apnea is in overdrive when you come home from the pub, Dr. Wei Shin Lai has the prescription for a solid night's rest. Since she made the move from M.D. to marketeer, SleepPhones have revolutionized the world of sonic sleep aids, taking the Consumer Electronics Show by storm last year and winning the 2015 Ben Franklin Big Idea business competition.
These flat headphones wrapped in a soft headband have been featured on national television and an abundance of online tech sites. The headband connects to your mobile device wired ($) or wirelessly ($$$) with lots of options in between, allowing you to slip into REM to your own tunes or something from the SleepPhone CD collection. Everything is available online at sleepphones.com or through a variety of national retailers.
Usually around the holidays parents and grandparents want to gift things that they "know you're going to use." Well now's your chance to let them set you up for a whole year with memberships to some of the region's best cultural attractions and amusements. If you're a parent, aunt, or uncle — or your friends have kids and you're looking to earn some points — this town has you covered. What's particularly great about memberships is that you can drop in for an hour rather than multiple hours and still feel like you got your money's worth.
Experience Children's Museum ($$-$$$$)
The Experience Children's Museum is a year-round attraction for people with pre-teens. Kids can role play in the second floor mini-town, roll and tumble on the ground floor, create art of their own, and just be kids. The museum also hosts birthday parties and special events including the ever-popular Noon Year's Eve Party that allows families with young kids to ring in the new year before the sun goes down. Memberships range from $55-$130 depending on the size of your family. More info: eriechildrensmuseum.org.
The Erie Zoo ($$)
The Erie Zoo is one of the most underrated treasures in Erie County.
Cities this size rarely have zoos. If you don't get there at least a few times a year, you're missing out. In addition to the nearly 400 animals, there are educational activities and programs, indoor and outdoor play areas, small amusements, and, of course, train rides around the zoo.Memberships begin at $65, but for an extra $10 you get a family pass that includes 10 guest passes. More info: eriezoo.org.
Season passes at Waldameer are perhaps the most cost-effective way to indulge your children and your inner child during the summer months. It's free to enter the park and use the public picnic grounds.
But access to Water World can get expensive fast, especially if you're a repeat visitor. A single season pass, which includes rides and Water World, is $73 for the under 48-inch crowd and $93 for the big kids. That's the cost of three single combo passes. So whether you like rattling along at more than 60 mph on the Ravine Flyer II, or smooching with your partner atop the ferris wheel overlooking Lake Erie, the season pass will keep you from raiding the reserves to pay for yournext big thrill. More information: waldameer.com.
Erie Art Museum ($-$$)
If you've outgrown the children's museum and you're ready to move into high art, you can support one of this community's most celebrated cultural assets with a membership to the Erie Art Museum. The museum hosts multiple exhibits throughout the year featuring painters, sculptors, and photographers, among others, with national and international acclaim. If chiaroscuro isn't in your vocabulary, galleries that feature "Art of the Comic Book" and multimedia like the upcoming Ian Brill installation that uses light and sound as part of an interactive experience might be for you. Memberships, beginning at $20 for students, include unlimited admission to the museum and reduced tuition for EAM sponsored art classes. More info: erieartmuseum.org.
Buying art for others is always a risky proposition. Because let's face it: changing one's wallscape is a personal endeavor. But if you've got an artist's eye and you want to help your friends get rid of the poorly framed Monet posters they've been moving around since dorm days, do it with gusto and support local artists.
Erie's vibrant art community produces enough gallery worthy sculpture, pottery, woodwork, painting, drawing, etc., etc. to ensure that you'll never again need to look at mass-produced media in your home or the homes of your friends.
Prices range from inexpensive to refinancing your mortgage, so your investment is based on solely on your interest in supporting local artists. If you're downtown, check out Glass Growers Gallery, Urraro Gallery, PACA, and the Bayfront Gallery. But there are great galleries throughout Erie County, each specializing in its own niche collections.
We write and talk a lot about the value of jobs in our community. The holidays give us an opportunity to support some pretty great local employers as well as a host of independently employed local people, many of whom give backto the region in ways both seen and unseen, celebrated and unmentioned.
If you do shop locally this holiday season, $68 of every $100 you spend stays in the local economy, according to the American Independent Business Alliance. Compared to the $43 that stays in the local economy when you shop at a big box retailer and the $1 that trickles in from online sales, shopping locally just makes cents – lots of them.
Jim Wertz can be reached at jWertz@ErieReader.com, and you can follow him on Twitter @jim_wertz.