The holiday season is set up for a judgmental fat man—or threatening parents—to pose the question of whether your actions throughout the year register as naughty or nice. We don't like the options. Perhaps it's because we're not sure which side of the list we'd fall under, or because we were never very happy about being pigeonholed. But either way, we've found a stress-free way to avoid the issue entirely.
We have it on good authority from the jolly dude in the red suit that the best way to guarantee "nice" this holiday season is to support local businesses. The economy may be showing signs of life, but that doesn't mean it's time to steer our gift-tugging sleighs toward Reserve Street. It's just as important this year to buy homegrown, handmade or otherwise locally created gifts, preferably from locally owned stores.
That's why we've compiled a wide-ranging list of our favorite local suggestions for this holiday season. We surely couldn't list every worthy artisan or proprietor, but we compiled an enticing list that should cover every budget and an array of tastes. We even included a few options for those of you who may, for better or worse, fall into the naughty category this year.
Artistic Montana map
Things get a little crazy during the holiday season, and sometimes it's best to take a deep breath, take a load off and appreciate where you are. That would be Montana. Big Sky Country. The Last Best Place. Our old Montucky home.
Pretty cool place, right? And with a pretty cool history. That history is captured in the hand-drawn, old world-style maps made by brothers Chris and Greg Robitaille. Intended as a frame-able piece of art, these antique-y posters look like something Lewis and Clark would have commissioned upon their return—and they'd look perfectly distinctive on your father's office wall.
Find it at: Miss Zula's, 111 N. Higgins Avenue; Rockin Rudy's, 237 Blaine Street; or the UM Bookstore, 5 Campus Drive.
The Western Classic rifle
Starting at $3,295
Nothing spells locavore like bagging a bull elk just a few miles from home. Why not help the hunter in the family take hunting in Missoula's backyard to the next level?
Cooper Firearms of Stevensville specializes in a wide array of rifles, from single-shot squirrel shooters to big-boy game guns. Each rifle is custom crafted by local experts. We suggest the Western Classic. A tasteful walnut stock and hand-struck barrel—plus options for gold inlay and engraving—make it as much a work of art as a means for putting meat on the table. With roughly 50 calibers to choose from, there's a version of the Western Classic for every gaming opportunity in Montana.
Order it from: Ronan Sports and Western, 63298 Highway 93 South.
Missoula is home to a smattering of adult shops, but as far as we know there's only one locally owned shop where you can find body-friendly hand-blown glass dildos made by a local artisan.
Birds and Bees LLC, the sexual health collaborative that opened in September, orders these artistic accoutrements from a local glass blower, and offers a variety of shapes and sizes. While we can't independently guarantee the purchasers, um, satisfaction, we can say they are at least aesthetically pleasing. That helps on Christmas morning in case you need to explain to confused in-laws that it's simply a glass sculpture for your sweetheart's bedside table.
Find them at: Birds & Bees LLC, 1515 E. Broadway.
RoughStock Montana Whiskey
Westerners have a warm spot in their hearts for whiskey. (Or maybe it's from whiskey.) So why is it that Montana boasts a couple dozen microbreweries but nary a distillery? Well, for a long time state laws discouraged small distillers, but that changed in 2005, and now Montana has what's dubbed the "First Best Whiskey in the Last Best Place."
RoughStock is handcrafted in Bozeman from Montana-grown and malted barley and mountain snowmelt. Husband and wife distillers Bryan and Kari Schultz, fourth generation Montanans, began bottling RoughStock earlier this year, and the libations of their labor are now in liquor stores around the state.
Find it at: Grizzly Liquor, 110 W. Spruce Street; or Krisco Liquor, 1300 S. Reserve Street.
Sure, you could drop a couple hundred bucks on some designer handbag made of supple European cowhide. But why do that when you could support a Missoula family making the funkiest and most practical bag around in their extra bedroom in student housing—and save enough money to fill it?
Magbags are named after primary crafter and designer Magda Martin, and have become one of the hippest made-in-Missoula accessories. Magda makes the Mini Bag, Mega Bag, Mommy Bag, Laptop Bag, Baby Wrap and Diaper Clutch all in the jazziest designs certain to please even your most fashion forward (or backward) lady friends, especially the expectant ones.
The Missoula Saturday Market, where Magda sets up shop, is closed for the season, but you can still get your hands on her creations before the holidays.
Find it at: Sotto Voce, 111 W. Main Street; online at www.magbag.net; or at the Missoula MADE Fair, Sunday, Dec. 13, 11 a.m.—6 p.m., Zootown Arts Community Center & Stensrud buildings, 235 & 314 N. First St. W.
Locally bound photo album
Starting at $35
Family mementos often make the best presents, especially for that hard-to-buy-for parent. Unfortunately, they also receive the most wear and tear.
If the childhood photo album Mom treasures so much is looking worse for the years, take it up to Shaffner's Bindery in Missoula. Jeff Shaffner will supply his expertise in crafting an attractive new cover for those old memories. Choose from a variety of leather products, from calfskin to goatskin. All the work is done on historic binding equipment, which Shaffner's Bindery purchased from the University of Montana's printing operation 45 years ago. The photos might be familiar, but it'll give loved ones a whole new reason to look back on the past at Christmas.
Find it at: Shaffner's Bindery, 3305 Pattee Canyon Road.
Emu pain relief balm
It's hard work being Santa's little helper during the holiday season. We're talking about huffing it from store to store, carrying umpteen shopping bags around town, and wrestling with putting all those impossibly intricate toys together on Christmas Eve. All that hard work makes for one tired body on Christmas morning—and little recovery time before hitting the slopes on your precious days off.
Enter Laid in Montana's emu pain relief balm. This magical little rub, made from the hundreds of animals at the Montana Emu Ranch Co. in the Flathead, claims to cure all your aches and pains. The special formula—40 percent of which is emu oil—transports concentrated herbs deep into tissues, eases pain in sore muscles and joints, and reduces inflammation and restores elasticity.
If pain is not your game, there are plenty of other local emu-related products. Turns out, Montana Emu Ranch Co. and the Bitterroot's Wild Rose Emu Ranch use more than 95 percent of each bird for everything from moisturizing oils to delicious meat. What doesn't get used? Just the beak and feet.
But our wish list focuses on the pain relief balm—and maybe, if you love us, a little back massage.
Find it at: Good Food Store, S. Third Street W.; Rockin Rudy's, 237 Blaine Street; among other locations. Find Montana Emu Ranch Co. online at www.laidinmt.com, and Wild Rose Emu Ranch at www.wildroseemu.com.
Freeman Transport bicycles
$985 and up
Missoulians pedal around town picking up locally made bread, locally brewed beer and locally grown veggies—and we can now do it all on a full-sized, collapsable bicycle made by a Missoula-based company.
Freeman Transport, co-founded about two years ago by local graphic artist Ben Ferencz, who lives in St. Ignatius, and Nathaniel Freeman, of Minneapolis, Minn., features hand-built custom steel-framed bicycles, including track and commuter bikes and, soon, road and cross bikes. Perhaps most notably, the company makes bikes that can be easily disassembled and packed into signature waxed canvas and leather carrying cases.
"We wanted to travel with our bicycles, and we weren't happy with our options," Ferencz explains. "We wanted them to be full-size. We wanted them to have a certain functionality, a certain aesthetic, so we decided to do it ourselves."
And they did.
Find it at: www.freemantransport.com
Rocky Mountain School of Photography prints
Prices vary from "less than $50" to hundreds of dollars
Thanks in part to the Rocky Mountain School of Photography (RMSP), Missoula is the host to, muse for and subject of dozens of renowned photographers. There's a great chance to give these shooters' work as gifts this season—and to hang it on your own walls—at RMSP's upcoming Opening the Vault: Access to the RMSP Archives event.
The two-day sale features images by RMSP instructors, including the likes of Marcy James and Elizabeth Stone. It's no University Center poster sale, but good deals on local, professional art are sure to be found. As James says, "I am just personally going through a phase of 'celebrating' our economic times, so I am into affordable art." That's something all of us can support.
Find it at: Rocky Mountain School of Photography Gallery, 216 N. Higgins Avenue, Dec. 12 and 13, 10 a.m.—5 p.m.
$5 per hour rentals, plus supplies, if necessary
Missoula is home to some fantastic apparel companies—Statriot Designs (the Monfuckintana shirt people) and Zoo City Apparel (the ubiquitous 406 designs) come immediately to mind. But budding T-shirt creators also have a chance to thrive thanks to the Wrongside Printing Station inside the Zootown Arts Community Center (ZACC).
Wrongside rents its printing station to the public for $5 per hour. If you're planning on outfitting more than a couple of friends, you might want to have printing staff make a screen of whatever you want printed on your T-shirts. Screens run between $35 and $50.
If your Christmas budget is tight or you only want to make a shirt or two, make your own paper stencil. That's free. Wrongside also sells solid colored T-shirts for between $5 and $10, or you can bring your own. Whichever way you decide to make it, just be sure to flex your fashion instincts and give the gift of DIY garb.
Find it at: The ZACC is located at 235 N. First Street W. Zoo City Apparel is available at the ZACC, as well. Find Statriot shirts at Betty's Devine, 521 S. Higgins Avenue, or online at www.etsy.com/shop/statriotdesigns.
Hunter Bay coffee
$10.50–$12 per pound
As far as drinks go, locals take their coffee and beer choices about as seriously as a winter storm warning. And for the caffeine fiends, a pound of Moose Drool Coffee from Lolo's Hunter Bay Coffee Roasters will keep them buzzing through New Year's Day.
Developed with Big Sky Brewing, creator of the deliciously dark Moose Drool beer, the coffee is sweet with a hint of brown sugar, caramel and spice.
Bernice's Blend, also roasted locally by Hunter Bay, offers another equally tasty option. A combination of fair trade Sumatra Takengon coffee and Ugandan White Nile coffee, it's roasted three times a week and delivered fresh to the Third Street bakery.
Find it at: Most local grocery stores, or at Hunter Bay's Lolo roasting plant, 11300 U.S. Highway 93 S. Visit them online at www.hunterbay.com.
The Microwave Baked Potato Bag
Consider Shirley Hillberg a master of the microwave. The maker of microwave baked potato bags—available in all sorts of patterns and sizes—swears that her handmade product helps produce "just right" baked potatoes. And corn on the cob! And fried potatoes! And heated taco shells! If you have a starving college student on your gift list, this would seem to be the perfect present.
Hillberg is a regular at local craft fairs and the People's Market during the summer, and says she's sold 6,000 bags without a single complaint. She buys her fabrics locally, except when she cleans out all the muslin cotton and must trek to Spokane for more. And Hillberg makes each and every bag by hand, and includes foolproof recipes with each sale.
"My factory is right here on Mullan Road, right here in my living room," she says. "It's all just me."
Find it at: Call Shirley Hillberg directly at 406-207-9493 or 406-542-7454.
The Dempsey Cup
Using nothing more than dump-bound junk and a bike-powered sander and saw, Missoula's own Jack Dempsey Boyd has solved every coffee drinkers quandary: How do you make the morning addiction more environmentally friendly?
Forget that silly, mismatched assortment of Looney Tunes mugs (which, lets face it, shatter at a rate of one a week) and get your caffeine-swilling loved one a Dempsey Cup. Boyd fashions go-mug handles from plywood scraps and attaches them to Mason-style glass jars with copper wire. The result might not be as flashy as Tweety Bird, but isn't that cobbled-together look in vogue these days anyway?
Find it at: www.dempseycup.com
Cedar canvas canoe from the Flathead
Summer's never too far away, and with it comes those windless days when Seeley Lake sits as still as glass. Outdoor enthusiasts will agree there's no better time for a relaxing paddle.
James Zielanski can put the family boater in the stern of a beautiful wood-and-canvas canoe. Heck, he's been doing it 11 years. Built entirely at Zielanski's shop in Bigfork, these traditionally keel-less canoes feature polished cedar ribs and a sturdy canvas shell. Both seats are handcrafted cane. These babies will handle like a dream even on rough waters, but caution the recipient to watch for rocks on the Blackfoot. Putting a hole in a canoe this striking is considered murder in some circles.
Find it at: Montana Cabinet and Canoe, 125 Marken Lane, Bigfork.
Heather's Heritage Hens egg shares
Three-month shares ranging from $35 to $140
Fresh, local food isn't the first thing that comes to mind for a winter holiday gift. But a winter share from Heather's Heritage Hens gets you richly flavored, locally laid eggs smack dab in the dead of the season.
Most people use eggs, so it's a practical item. And, though the price is higher than what you'd find at grocery stores, the fresh, local factor also makes it a luxury. A gift certificate allots for a three-month share and can be customized to fit the size of the family. For instance, the easy punch card allows the flexibility to get more eggs one week and less another.
Find it at: Call Heather McKee directly at 406-214-1524, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Starlight Arts gnome dolls
Kids love gnomes. Why? Because kids have better imaginations than scarred old-timers like us.
Anna Rummel Tenenbaum's Starlight gnomes feed those young imaginative minds that find endless wonderment in the wild colors and fantastical pointy hats of the little folklore creatures. The 12-inch female and male dolls are made entirely from wool—merino and mohair— sourced from Montana vendors in Hall and Arlee. Tenenbaum also uses angora from her own rabbits. The rainbow of colors comes straight from local plant producers who grow indigo, purple basil and onions specifically for dying materials. And, since each is handmade, no two gnomes look quite the same.
Find it at: Walking Stick Toys, 829 S. Higgins Avenue.
Customized wine bottle art and serving trays
$15 and up
Jessi Eaton, the creator of Jessi Rae Wine Designs, has made a cottage industry out of old wine bottles otherwise destined for the landfill. Eaton scavenges the bottles from local restaurants and bars, and then flattens them into serving trays and art displays embellished with wire beading. The result is practical and gorgeous.
Eaton also creates personalized labels and says she's happy to etch words on sentimental bottles emptied during anniversaries, weddings and bat mitzvahs. Sounds like a good choice for your sentimental significant other.
Find them at: Rockin Rudy's, 237 Blaine Street; Worden's Market, 451 N. Higgins Avenue; or Ellie Blue Timeless Gifts, 328 E. Pine Street. Or call Jessi Eaton directly at 406-860-8858.
Edge of the World offers a variety of decks for local skateboarders, but just one features a Missoula landscape created by a famous ex-Missoulian. Comedian and local skateboarding supporter Chris Fairbanks designed this deck in 1999 featuring the likes of Tommy the Leprechaun and Red.
A cool $140 covers the deck and getting it ready to roll, and while only one remains in stock, we understand that more can be made if the demand is there.
Find it at: Edge of the World, 618 S. Higgins Avenue.
Heart-healthy HighMont steaks
$13.99 a pound
Nothing gets the family meat-lover salivating like the sizzle of a juicy top sirloin on the grill. So join your neighborhood locavores and keep an eye on your cholesterol intake with steak from the shores of Flathead Lake.
Rancher Ed Jonas has worked for four years to successfully cross low-fat Highland cattle with the succulent Piedmontese breed. What did Jonas get? HighMont, a novelty strain of beef with less saturated fat than your Thanksgiving turkey.
Buying local and staying healthy just got tastier, but watch out. Odds are whoever gets these steaks at Christmas won't want to share.
Order it from: Blacktail Mountain Ranch, email@example.com.
Let's face it: Every gift list includes at least one friend or family member who still eats Cheetos for breakfast, plays Xbox until dawn, can quote "Family Guy" like a priest can quote the Bible and sleeps past 2 p.m. on a regular basis. You may not understand the ways of this loved one, but let us make a small suggestion: He or she would be wicked thankful for a locally made glass pipe on Christmas morning—or, in this case, Christmas afternoon.
Lucky for you, Missoula has a plethora of options for such gifts. We recommend the two colorfully stuffed cases at Piece of Mind—including some choice bubblers and chillums—and then heading a few doors down to Atmosphere, where you'll find certain selections stickered with the Made in Montana logo. Our favorite: The maroon pipe with what looks like the Griz logo.
Find them at: Local head shops, including Atmosphere, 115 W. Main Street; Piece of Mind, 123 W. Main Street; Urban Kings, 103 E. Main Street; and Raja's, 1220 W. Broadway.
GoFetch! gift basket
Don't you love holiday baked goods? Us, too. But your best friend with the wagging tail sports a snack tooth just like everyone else.
Scott Timothy, owner of local dog shop Go Fetch!, makes no bones about a dog's holiday needs. He says people think of other people first during Black Friday and only later remember their four-legged buddies. Enter his gift basket presented in a collapsible dog bowl and featuring treats from the Go Fetch! bakery, like carob, beef mixed with carrot and wheat-free peanut butter cookies. You can also add doggie muffins and cheesy garlic bones. And, don't worry, Timothy's holiday cookie cutters provide seasonal shapes your dog will surely love—or at least be happy to gulp down. For an extra bonus, we suggest including a toy or rawhide chew, too.
Find it at: Go Fetch! locations at 627 Woody Street, 517 S. Higgins Avenue and 3275 N. Reserve Street.
Local cowboy music box set
Granted, you could probably create an infinite number of combination box sets showcasing local bands. The newly arrived college kid seeking a ray of hope that he hasn't left all the good music behind in Portland or Seattle would have no problem putting together a collection of local anti-folk, sci-fi rock, retro grunge, hip-hop, garage pop, stoner, metal and/or electronic that wouldn't suck.
But let's just say the new kid on the block needs a little countrified flavor to go with his Montucky lifestyle. We suggest this handpicked combo: Russ Nasset's old-style covers on Human Tongue, Bob Wire's honky tonk on Buffaload, Tom Catmull and the Clerics' alt-country on Glamour Puss, Stomping Ground's old-west pop on Midnight on the Highway, Richie and the Rocketdogs' Americana pop on Manic Heart, and Bird's Mile Home's melodic cowpunk on Family Portrait. Now there's a country six-pack to quench a thirst.
Find these discs at: Ear Candy Music, 624 S. Higgins, and Rockin Rudy's, 237 Blaine Street.