Christmas shopping can be the most exasperating, enervating experience. However, walk into a shop that has just the perfect parasol for Aunt Jane or a travel journal of Kenya that's right up Grandpa's alley--and it can be a satisfying outing.
Here are 20 places, many you might never have considered as solutions to Christmas gift-giving problems, such as nurseries, a movie-memorabilia shop, even a hardware store that is open early enough for most to stop on the way to work.
While some of the stores have already initiated their holiday hours, others won't begin until Dec. 6. If you're in doubt about extended hours, telephone the store before making a trip.
Armstrong Building Materials--11321 Pico Blvd., West Los Angeles, (213) 477-8023. Monday to Thursday 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., Fridays 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturdays 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sundays 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Most people know Armstrong for its pony packs of pansies and pebbles by the pound, but browse awhile and all their well-chosen trinkets make this a great gift shop too. The indoor plants can't be beat for lushness at a fair price. And for the gardener who has everything: a stone swan with a graceful neck or a bird-shaped brass faucet. The kitchen ware section is loaded with well-designed gadgets, many in natural wood or bright plastics, plus wonderful kitchen and table linens. The bath area has Scandinavian scrubbers, porpoise washcloths and bubble baths. Other possibilities: rag rugs, duck-head ceramic lamps, picture frames, notebooks and teapots. And where else can you do serious Christmas shopping at 7:30 in the morning on your way to work?
The Art Store--7200 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 933-9284. Open Monday to Friday 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturdays 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Sundays 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. An art-supply store can be a great source of gifts for both adults and kids. Splurge on a selection of Pantone felt markers, high-quality markers in fabulous artsy-craftsy colors that turn even a kindergarten project into something worth keeping. There's an array of Conte pastels in not-strictly pastel colors. While toy-store clays are limited, the choice here ranges from self-hardening clays in both natural and bright colors, firing clays and even a Celluclay for quick papier-mache projects. Add calipers, a few wire-sculpting tools and a book and you've got a well-thought-out gift. Other possibilities include a selection of drafting tools: templates, graph papers and drafting board.
Brookstone--Beverly Center, 8522 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 659-9491. Monday-Friday 10 a.m.-9 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Sunday noon-6 p.m. (Also: 456 W. Hillcrest Drive, Thousand Oaks,(805) 373-5070; Del Amo Shopping Plaza, Torrance, (213) 542-9424; South Bay Galleria, Redondo Beach, (213) 371-2472). You can't miss it, it's the only store with a humidifier in the window. Even if you haven't penciled in a humidifier by someone's name, you are sure to find nifty gadgets here, the kind you were perfectly content not knowing they existed, but once you know, you've got to have them. The New Hampshire-based Brookstone has a New England, no nonsense approach to its set up. Everything on view is for display only; the stock is kept behind closed doors. Customers browse around with a special clipboard noting their selections; complete orders are then filled by clerks. Many of these gadgets are the kind found only in catalogues such as aerator shoes (no, not a new exercise fad but a quick way to revitalize the lawn), unusual license-plate frames, wedge splitters, graceful hammocks. Each item has an information tag, a good thing because the use of many of these gizmos is not immediately apparent. While a good shop for almost any adult on your list, Brookstone is an especially good source for presents for the men on your list.
Chad's Rainbow--Galleria at South Bay, corner of Hawthorne and Artesia, third floor, Redondo Beach, (213) 542-4648. Open Mon-day to Friday 8 a.m.-9:30 p.m., Saturdays 9:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m., Sundays 11 a.m.-7 p.m. This store prides itself on selling nothing that's advertised on Saturday-morning television. Care Bear seekers, seek elsewhere. This toy shop stresses developmental toys that can mean anything from puzzles to easels. There's a full line of Capsela building toys plus the Science Workshop series with which children as young as 4 can put together periscopes and other simple scientific instruments. There are unusual board games like Journey Through Europe for older kids and reading-oriented ones for the younger set.