For Montclair Local

It’s the most wonderful time of the year for me, with holiday celebrations on the horizon and gift-giving opportunities galore. Hanukkah begins this year at sundown on Nov. 28, and I’ve already made inroads into my shopping list. 

Let me help you with my own spin on shopping around town. I want to give friends and family unique gifts, and decided to focus on two nonprofit organizations and a business that helps us give back and please recipients at the same time.

My first stop was to the Montclair History Center’s Nathaniel Crane Visitors Center Museum Shop, where I sat down with Diane E. Israel, manager of audience engagement, for a nice catch-up chat and tour of the shop. Look for a red house at  the back of the campus from the parking area, and you’re ready to go. 

Diane said, “Shop local and support local artists at the same time. You can also give a membership as a gift, buy a Heritage Brick to place in the Legacy Patio, research the history of your home or purchase a map of it, from a 1906 tax map, 1926 atlas map, or 1934 insurance map which shows the structure of your home.” Even if your home was built much later than that, you can see what existed back in the day.

The ongoing fundraisers support the History Center’s educational programs and preservation projects. I do my share by purchasing an annual family membership and shopping at the museum shop, where members receive a 10% discount on purchases. I found many great choices, with the help of Diane and Justin Millet, a History Center educator who works at the shop. I filled up two fabric Montclair History Center tote bags newly designed for this year.

The kiddies on your list will love the wooden tops, Jacob’s ladder game and matching card sets, but I bought the vintage clothespin doll kit to keep for myself. Packs of notecards are buy one, get one free, and can be used for many occasions. Use one of the cards to write, “You are my best friend. Let’s make history together and enjoy going to Montclair History Center as members.” 

There's a wall of books for sale about New Jersey diners, old-time recipes (called receipts in the book sold at the shop), slavery in New Jersey and legendary locals from our town. The titles of the many books for sale are too long to list here. Have a cup of coffee or tea at home in the latest version of Montclair map mugs, sweeten things up with bags of penny candy, and get ready to shop some more.

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You don’t have to leave the house to shop, but I recommend an in-person visit to the Montclair Art Museum as your next stop. I also have a family membership here, and will gift more memberships this year. 

Admission is free to members, and MAM also offers a 10% discount to members on purchases. Support their programs, visit the galleries, take a class, purchase artwork to help the artist community and New Jersey agencies that serve human needs and MAM.

Don’t forget to visit The Shop at Montclair Art Museum to pick up kitchen and home items, toys for kids, one-of-a-kind accessories, books, catalogs and jewelry. Use one of their beautiful boxed cards to write, “Enjoy art and culture in the New Year with my gift membership for you and your family.”

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Caption: Robin Woods, left, checks out an item at The General Store at Cornerstone House with store owner Wendy Lacey. (NEIL GRABOWSKY / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
Caption: Robin Woods, left, checks out an item at The General Store at Cornerstone House with store owner Wendy Lacey. (NEIL GRABOWSKY / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)

As an inveterate holiday shopper in search of gifts for one and all, I returned to The General Store at Cornerstone House on Bellevue Avenue and spoke to owner and founder Wendy Lacey while discovering old and new items in stock at the store. 

The General Store differs from many businesses in Montclair, as it has a special mission, explained by Wendy, who said, “Like all of the businesses in the Cornerstone Montclair Building, the store supports the mission of creating opportunities for people with disabilities to be active and contributing members of their community. I employ approximately 10 people, half of which have disabilities. I also carry a lot of art and products made by people with disabilities from all over the country.” 

Other mission partners in the building include Inclusive Movement Center; Norma Francullo, a special education attorney; Maria Sanders, a parenting coach, and Creative Speech Solutions.

I found some nice things to give to my friends this holiday season, with a gorgeous knitted waterfall scarf with fringe as the favorite find of my shopping trip. The scarves come in various color palettes, and I’m keeping the color choice a secret for now. 

I still send Hanukkah cards, and added a box of them to my stash, along with shimmering rainbow sequined hair scrunchies, which are back “in” again, guitar light-up key rings, a small sloth figure lip balm and two fun, glittery fabric face masks. If I'm going to be wearing face masks into 2022, I’m going to keep doing it in style. 

Choose from toys, games and puzzles for kids, and don’t forget the fur babies on your list. Dog leash and rope toys made by Cliffhound are made out of upcycled rock and ice climbing gear. A portion of the profits is donated to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Gracie's Chicken Heart Delights all-natural pet treats will make you a dog’s best friend.

Consider making a donation to your favorite organization in someone’s honor, buy a gift card to a favorite shop or restaurant in town, and make someone happy. You’ll be happy, too.

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Robin Woods is a local girl-about-town, writing about activities, stores, restaurants and interesting people that catch her eye. She’s written memoirs and personal essays, as well as music and fashion columns for various New York City newspapers. Her writing awards include the Shirley Chisholm Award for Journalism and the Director’s Award for Essex County Legacies Essay contest.