When it comes to shopping local, the South Sound has a lot to offer. This story is packed with independent shops and gift ideas along with the many talented people who keep replenishing the community’s supply of treasures. Whether it’s carved, painted, brewed, baked, or molded — there’s something for everyone.
It’s All in the Details
Inside artist Nikki McClure’s world
When Nikki McClure makes cutouts with her X-Acto knife, she sits in a squeaky old green chair from A Rusty Rooster antique shop in Olympia. She delicately carves people, birds, petals, butterfly wings, and raindrops from sheets of black paper. All her tiny details create a story, intricate and unique like a spider’s web.
McClure’s studio is located in the basement of her house in unincorporated Thurston County, on the outskirts of Olympia. Just above her work station, a row of windows captures the light, illuminating pencil marks that would otherwise be lost in the sea of black paper. From her chair, she can see a stretch of the Puget Sound, and tree leaves releasing heavy dewdrops, and squirrels bouncing by. It’s the little things all around that inspire her art.
McClure describes her work as “looking at the positive sides of humanity.” Her cutouts feature people holding hands, biking through a field of dandelions, and cuddling under a tent. She thinks the world needs a little more love nowadays. Every month, her neighbor drops off a big stack of newspapers that she uses to burn in her fireplace. Seeing the sadness reported day after day can be discouraging.
Let’s get along. Let’s be smart. Let’s be creative. Let’s just start noticing things. — Nikki McClure
“I just had to kind of turn (the papers) over this time because every one I picked up, there was like a shooting on the front page,” she said. “I just feel like let’s take all that, and we’ll deal with it, but let’s envelop it with positive messages. … Let’s get along. Let’s be smart. Let’s be creative. Let’s just start noticing things.”
McClure spends much of her time doing just that. Looking around. Finding inspiration. She’ll take photos of treasured moments, then draw and cut those out. She tries to limit the hours she spends focused on a screen. It keeps the world endlessly captivating for her. Being entertained by the extraordinary and average details of everyday life is something she worries is slipping away for a lot of people.
“What’s out there besides you and your car? You know? I just feel like people’s worlds are kind of really small. It’s device and car. And that’s really sad. Because it’s incredible! There’s only this planet, and there’s so much on it,” she said.
Sometimes people recognize McClure on the street in Olympia. They likely know her from the calendars and children’s books she makes. She also gives back. She’ll do projects for nonprofits or donate a piece to an organization for auction. She wants to be a voice for her community. In a way, the local fame is kind of a gift.
“There’s a chance to serve the community. I feel that’s a part of being an artist that I think some people forget or don’t care about. There’s the mailman in the town, and there’s the grocer in the town, there’s a bank teller, and there’s an artist. You have a role,” she said.
McClure’s husband, woodworker Jay T. Scott, also is an artist. He works in a woodshop just up the hill from their home. Every day, they take a walk together and talk through career and creative decisions. They both spend their day cutting materials into meanings.
“Making things with your hands is so satisfying because you’re making mistakes all the time,” she said. “You just have to live with it and work around it; like it’s still there, but it can’t be erased, and it can’t be digitally removed.”
What McClure does perfect is the art of capturing emotions. Her cutouts exude universal feelings. She says the most meaningful compliments happen when her work impacts someone on a deeper level. One couple contacted her after their son kept dreaming about foxes. Shortly after he died, the couple told McClure that when they flipped their calendar page, there was a cutout of a red fox watching a boy walking off in the distance.
McClure doesn’t know how things like that happen. She doesn’t make her art for the purposes it sometimes ends up serving. It just happens.
In Her Youth In the ’90s, McClure was involved with the underground feminist movement Riot Grrrl. You can also see her dancing on stage with Kurt Cobain in the 1991 recording Nirvana: Live at the Paramount.
Heritage and Heart
Keeping traditions alive through art
Puyallup Tribal member and artist Shaun Peterson uses his Qwalsius brand to revive Coast Salish art traditions through painting, printing, carving, creating fine jewelry, and erecting major public art installations. Peterson is occasionally available for custom artwork commissions, but his most sought-after wares are his line of blue and green Sealth’s Hawk apparel. Products include shirts, dresses, hoodies, hats, and prints. Apparel is $15-$45. Other art prices vary.
Did you know?
It’s easy to show your love of Tacoma’s quirky side with a letterpress poster by Beautiful Angle. Have you taken their Tacoma quiz online? It’s challenging. Posters are $30-$1,500 (based on rarity).
Crafting with Care
Kids can make gifts at Tinkertopia
RR and Darcy Anderson jokingly refer to their cluttered shop on Pacific Avenue as “the garbage can of Tacoma.”
“We live in a throwaway culture,” RR said. “We see all the waste that is generated, and we kind of poke fun at that.”
The environmentally minded husband-and-wife duo opened Tinkertopia, a creative reuse retail and maker space in 2014, after careers in graphic design and early childhood education, respectively. Their mission: to take gently-used, donated raw materials and art supplies and give them a new life through creative repurposing.
“We live in a throwaway culture. We see all the waste that is generated and we kind of poke fun at that.” — RR Anderson
“You can buy raw scrap materials that are really great for kids to get started thinking about crafting, engineering, and building with those found materials. (Kids) are great because they see potential so much easier than we do,” Darcy said of the store’s younger clientele.
The holidays are always a busy season for the Andersons, who affectionately refer to December as their handmade, heartfelt season.
“There is nothing better than — I think — a handmade craft (as a holiday gift). Especially for young kids to make something for their parent; this is an inexpensive and fun way to do it,” Darcy said.
Bags of supplies range from $7-$20.
More finds for kids
The staff at Olympia’s Captain Little has proved that the hometown toy-store model is not dead after all. This wonderful, bright shop features an array of locally and/or handmade toys and goods that are as unique as the children who shop there.
Archibald Sisters in Olympia has something for everyone. Kids will love the toy and joke section, while moms will enjoy the fragrant line of self-titled lotions and perfumes made by the Archibald Sisters. Their No. 1 fragrance is aptly named “Oly Girl.”
Auburn-based online retailer Pixie Faire makes downloadable PDF doll clothing patterns and fabric kits.
These mountain pillows — made from local Pendleton Woolen Mill wool — will take pillow talk to new heights. Designed and handmade by Tacoma artisan Amanda Weiss, these pillows pair well with other Three Bad Seeds equally adorable animal pillows in the form of foxes, whales, bear cubs, and more. Pillows are $64 and up.
Evolving with Tacoma
A boutique that fills a local niche
Cindy Hickly’s home and apparel boutique, Evolve, carries a curated collection of refurbished furniture and modern décor. She’s a big fan of the HGTV remodeling show Fixer Upper, but forget Waco, Texas (where the show is based). Hickly is all about Tacoma. That’s why, Evolve carries a wealth of locally crafted items.
“I’m really passionate about Tacoma and the people who live here,” she said.
About 10 years ago, Hickly opened a boutique named Dwell on 21st Street. After several years, she sold it to do independent design work and have her third child. But she missed having a shop. So in 2014, she opened Evolve near her former store.
“I think that once you’re a shopkeeper, you’re always a shopkeeper,” she said.
Hickly lives just six blocks from Evolve. She first settled into her North End neighborhood in the late ’90s. Tacoma is near and dear to her heart. That’s why at Evolve, you’ll either find things you can’t find most anywhere else in the city (like Annie Sloan Chalk Paint) or things that are made in the South Sound area (like Pepper Pot Polish and Turn-of-the-Centuries maps). For about six months, she’s procured a special collection of holiday gifts. One of her criteria is: If you can find it at Target, it won’t be at Evolve.
As a local shop owner, Hickly is passionate about being a part of the community. She donates items and gift cards to local nonprofits. Her employees don’t have sales quotas. She’d rather they focus on connecting with customers and making sure neighbors feel comfortable coming in just to say hello.
“We just like to have fun and be a part of the community. And when people come in for the first time, we get a lot of comments like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m totally going to be back here. I thought everything was going to be way more expensive or way stuffier than it actually is,’” she said with a laugh.
For lovers of leather
This beautifully crafted, versatile camera bag by Black Anchor is the perfect intersection of classic and modern design, not to mention it is made with Martexin waxed canvas to protect against Pacific Northwest weather. Available in oak, black, and charcoal. This bag is $375.
These buy-it-for-life quality Scout and Pine Quality Goods drink coasters are handcrafted in Tacoma using American-made full grain leather. Available in black, brown, and natural (tan). Scout and Pine also offers a vast array of high-quality belts, wallets, and watch straps. These coasters are $39 for a 4-pack.
Making Their Mark
Inside Bloom, Frankie, and Foundry
When Bloom opened in downtown Gig Harbor in 2004, it was a small, high-end boutique tucked away near the water on Harborview Drive. However, it took only a few years for Bloom to blossom, relocating to Gig Harbor’s vibrant Uptown shopping center and expanding with two additional shops: Frankie, a fast fashion boutique, and Foundry, which specializes in upscale men’s apparel.
Owners Maria Miskoski and her husband, Mark Crowley, became inspired to open their boutiques after a visit to Manhattan Beach in California left them wishing their own waterfront town offered upscale apparel items in a quaint, curated setting.
“We just wanted well-made clothing and accessories, and there wasn’t anywhere (in Gig Harbor) to get premium denim,” Miskoski said.
All three stores make shopping for friends and family a breeze. Both Bloom and Frankie carry an assortment of accessories, ranging from cute headbands at Frankie to upscale jewelry (think 14-carat gold and gemstones) at Bloom. At Foundry, Crowley keeps the shelves stocked with unique finds for guys, including bourbon-flavored toothpicks and leather-scented candles from Tacoma-based company Wax and Wool.
Tim and April Norris’ mission is to bring a sense of adventure into people’s homes. Their Tim + April topographical drawings of mountains bring outdoor enthusiasm inside. They also have a minimalist heart-shaped street map of Tacoma (and other cities). Prints start at $24.
Maria Jost has been drawing since she was a kid. But when she went to college at the University of Puget Sound, she decided to study biology — a science that’s now engrained in her work. She has a collection of Adaptation Illustrations in which the underlying concept is “how natural selection shapes organisms’ forms by favoring those that are camouflaged in their environment.” An Adaptation print is $40.
Keeping Legends Alive
A local book on feminism
Looking for a history book that’s not full of old, white men? Look no further than the new book Dead Feminists. Beautifully illustrated by Tacoma artists Chandler O’Leary and Jessica Spring, the book shares the stories of 27 women who have changed history.
The two artists have been creating broadsides together for eight years. Dead Feminists is the result of an ongoing series. The book gives back through the Dead Feminists Fund, which supports grassroots nonprofits that work to empower women and girls.
Which dead feminist would you have dinner with? Eleanor Roosevelt and Elizabeth Zimmermann because they were encouraging. — Chandler O’leary
So, if the authors could, who in the book would they most want to have dinner with?
“Eleanor Roosevelt and Elizabeth Zimmermann because they were encouraging,” said O’Leary. “Babe Zaharias because she’d be the most fun. Emma Goldman, I fear, would be the awkward guest, the specter at the feast.”
“I’d skip dinner and take the opportunity to set type and print with Virginia Woolf and her sister Vanessa Bell,” said Spring.
Dead Feminists is $24 at King’s Books.
Books to Browse
We asked Olympia’s Browsers Books owner Andrea Griffith about books from local authors that would make a great gift. Here’s her two cents.
The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey by Rinker Buck
“An epic account of traveling the 2,000-mile length of the Oregon Trail the old-fashioned way in a covered wagon with a team of mules, which has captivated readers. This book is such fun.”
Looking for Betty MacDonald: The Egg, The Plague, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, and I by Paul Becker
“A wonderful new biography of an enduring Northwest writer.”
Waiting for High Tide by Nikki McClure
“This is our favorite Nikki McClure picture book. She keeps getting better and better.”
The Eagle Tree by Ned Hayes
“A novel about a boy with Asperger who loves trees. Set in Olympia.”
Before the Wind by Jim Lynch
“Fourth book by Olympian novelist Jim Lynch — warm and funny novel about a Northwest sailing family.”
Handcrafted Gifts for the Home
Get organic soap made the old-fashioned way with Lemonbuzzzsoap. It’s made in Tacoma by Mrs. Lemonbuzzz, and a portion of the proceeds goes to help Honeylove, a nonprofit working to save the bees. A bar of soap is $6.50.
Throwing Mud Gallery in Tacoma showcases the works of more than 100 local and regional artists. Or, you can make and paint your own pottery. A six-week session of pottery classes is $200.
If you’re looking for a wood table carved with skill and love, check out Lucky Fish Designs. Prices vary.
Beyond the Mall Walls
UrbanXchange has been buying and selling gently used vintage and modern clothing for over a decade, but in the past three years the Tacoma clothier has expanded to offer other odds and ends, such as locally made beard oil from EarthNerd Treasures and unique items for the home. Who doesn’t want a 1980s woven wall hanging?
Tip: If you can’t make it into the store but still want to shop its shelves, UrbanXchange updates its Etsy page on the regular.
Dumpster Values is your South Sound headquarters for cool fashion finds at bargain prices. Located in Olympia, Dumpster Values has been going strong since 1995, providing a wide selection of cool threads and accessories. It’s also a dynamic gathering place for artists, musicians, environmentalists, and activists of all kinds. dumpstervalues.com
Whether you’ve been growing your comic book collection since childhood or you’re new to the superhero scene, Danger Room Comics in Olympia keeps a diverse selection of comics in stock. Casey Bruce and Frank Hussey are at the helm to help curious customers find their favorite titles or discover something new altogether.
Spaceworks project Stocklist Goods & Gifts opened earlier this summer as a purveyor of one-of-a-kind wares. Offering everything from handmade jewelry and playful home décor, to colorful stationery and other eye-catching accessories, souvenirs, and goods.
For many people, investing the time it takes to rummage through thrift store racks in search of a diamond in the rough is enough to halt their hunt before it starts. Luckily, Blue — A Goodwill Boutique on Proctor does the dirty work for you. The Blue Boutique stocks its shelves with gently used upscale clothing, jewelry, shoes, and items for the home. Goodwill Blue also has locations in Olympia, and Sumner.
Baby Head Cups
The joke’s on creator Oliver Doriss
Oliver Doriss can make incredible things out of glass. He started glassblowing when he was 16 years old. But he’s known for his handcrafted Baby Head Cups, that he sells online and in museum gift shops.
“I’ve been making them for about 20 years, and it started off kind of as a joke when I was in school. And as I like to say, the joke’s on me because of all the amazing stuff I’ve done, stupid little Baby Head Cups is the one. People love them, or people hate them. Nobody is indifferent,” he said.
Doriss lives in Hilltop in Tacoma and runs the contemporary arts gallery, Fulcrum. He makes other glass gifts in the $50 range. Inside his house he has tons of baby glasses that are either chipped or didn’t turn out just right.
“These glasses are going to outlive me.”
Baby Head Cups are $45.
Amy Reeves teaches and practices the art
Art has always been a big part of Amy Reeves’ life. Growing up on Bainbridge Island, she was always up to something creative. It wasn’t until she was living in Seattle, however, that she fell in love with manipulating metal. In 1992, she signed up for a jewelry class at Pratt Fine Arts Center.
“Back then, I had no concept of people making one-of-a-kind studio jewelry, so I was amazed to find a place where I could learn how to do this,” she said.
Enamored by the way metal arts and jewelry making challenged and pushed her creativity, Reeves decided to turn her passion into a career. In 2003, she graduated from the University of Washington with a bachelor’s of fine art degree in metals.
Not long after that, Reeves found herself teaching classes at Pratt Fine Arts Center, the school that spurred her own interest in metal arts, and in cities across the region. She ultimately decided to settle in Tacoma and open her own studio and school, Tacoma Metal Arts Center.
“There were no schools (in Tacoma), and only a few classes at Tacoma Community College,” she said.
Today, Tacoma Metal Arts Center, located on Sixth Avenue, offers a wide variety of classes to the public, ranging from beginner to more experienced. If you prefer to leave the metal bending to the professionals, Reeves keeps an inventory of locally made jewelry and art in stock. Peruse the display case, or bring in your own idea for Reeves to create. Custom jewelry can be completed in about eight to 10 weeks. Gift certificates are available.
- With a kitchen in Tacoma, Farmers Market favorites Pampeana Empanadas are the perfect twist on holiday bites. And you can buy them frozen!
- It’s never too cold for ice cream, and Tacoma’s Ice Cream Social sells its flavorful ice cream by the pint. Pick one up to serve with pie.
- The holiday season can be rough for those with food allergies. Here are some holiday hot spots for those with dietary needs.
- Tacoma Boys on Sixth Avenue boasts the largest selection of gluten-free items in Tacoma. Want a doughnut you can eat? Check. Want alternatives to flour? Check.
- With locations in Tacoma and Federal Way, natural food store Marlene’s Market and Deli has gluten-free products for baking and much more. The café onsite even has a gluten-free menu.
- The Best of the South Sound-winning Corina Bakery has gluten-free, soy-free, and vegan treats.
A Tacoma Original
Sweet local confections at Brown & Haley
Tacoma is home to the world-famous Almond Roca made by Brown & Haley. Since 1923, the factory at 110 E. 26th St. has been pumping out sweet treats loved the world over. Stuff a stocking with some Almond Roca or a Mountain Bar. You can purchase from the gift shop outside the factory or at the Fife Outlet, 3500 C 20th St.
Give The Gift of Caffeine
This is the Northwest. We love our coffee. This holiday season, toast with a good roast. Or, if you’re not in the mood for coffee, you can get all the loose-leaf fixin’s for a hot cuppa tea.
- Olympia Coffee Roasters, Tacoma
- Valhalla Coffee, Tacoma
- Bluebeard Coffee, Tacoma
- Encore Teas, Olympia
- Mad Hat Tea Company, Tacoma
Beers to Buy
Across the South Sound, breweries are popping up (or, should we say, hopping up?) all over the place. And with good reason: Beer is delicious. Everyone brings wine to a party, but this year you can be different and bring a growler or six-pack, or meet for a pint. Here are some classics and seasonal brews to look for.
253 Pilsner, 7 Seas Brewing Co., Gig Harbor
While it’s a Czech Pilsener-style beer, this brew is Washington-made from the hops to the malt. Best of all, this is a beer that gives back. In a partnership with 253Heart, a portion of sales from this beer is donated to local nonprofits.
Giant Pacific Octopus IPA, Narrows Brewing Co., Tacoma
This beer has notes of pine and citrus, especially grapefruit. It’s named after one of the Puget Sound’s most famous dwellers.
Helsing Junction Urban Farmhouse Ale, Three Magnets Brewing, Olympia
This flagship farmhouse ale is one that Three Magnets has made from its beginning, and each year some is put into wine barrels for souring and aging.
Fish Tale Organic Amber Ale, Fish Tale Brewing Co., Olympia
The organic Hallertauer hops make it zesty, while the malt balances it out.
Three Sixty Red, Top Rung Brewing, Lacey
With a bitterness that complements its red color, the Three Sixty Red is one of Top Rung’s popular beers. Based in Lacey, Top Rung is owned by McLane/Black Lake Fire Department firefighters Jason Stoltz and Casey Sobel.
Ice Chips Candy
South Sound on Shark Tank
A few seasons back, did you spy two grandmas making a pitch to the Sharks on ABC’s Shark Tank? That would be Yelm-based businesswomen Beverly Vines-Haines, then 74, and Charlotte Clary, then 60, of Ice Chips Candy. Ice Chips Candy is made with xylitol, a sweetener made from birch wood. “We were already into health products,” Clary said, and the two had wanted to make candy for their 41 grandchildren. Appearing on Shark Tank was like “a tsunami,” Clary said, and the pair had 4,500 orders, which is $300,000 in sales, directly from the show. Then they got another $300,000 of sales when the show re-aired months later. Not sure which of the 21 flavors to choose from? We recommend the sour apple. Or you can go the seasonal route with pumpkin spice, eggnog, and peppermint.