Shoppers are heading north for the holidays — La Crosse’s North Side, that is.
From peanut brittle to poinsettias, fine wines to fine jewelry, boutiques and businesses along Caledonia and George Streets offer handcrafted, local and unique offerings that serve as both great gifts and a great support to family-owned and small businesses.
Shoppers weary of the mass-produced goods at big box stores can find truly unique trinkets at Caledonia Street Antique Mall, which boasts treasures from more than three dozen dealers. Vintage holiday baubles sell quickly, says Antique Mall co-owner Joe Schwartz, particularly those bearing the jolly visage of Santa. In the days leading up to Christmas, Schwartz sees his share of last minute shoppers, browsing for “anything and everything,” while others stop in with a mission.
Earlier this week, a group of women from Rochester, Minn., were on the hunt for a rare china pattern to complete a relative’s set, delighted to discover the matching cups and saucers at the Antique Mall. Hoping to help them locate the coordinating plates in time for Christmas, Schwartz offered up his detective skills in the spirit of the holiday, scouring websites and consulting with other dealers.
“We always try to help people out,” Schwartz said.
Staff at Mark Jewelers go the extra mile as well, helping spouses and significant others find the perfect bling when they haven’t a clue what to look for. Popular choices this season have been bar necklaces, either engraved with initials or trimmed with gems, along with tree of life pendants, paw print charms and “anything with diamonds.”
“Diamond studs, diamond hoops — everybody wants those,” said Mark Jewelers sales associate Elizabeth Broadbent. “Diamonds are always popular.”
Customers appreciate the attentive, knowledgeable staff at the family-owned jeweler, Broadbent says, and that items can be serviced or sized at the store, ensuring that ruby ring will be under the tree by the 25th.
Home goods with a homey feel are in abundance at Gifted Hands Redesigned, which features linen, knit, wood and metal creations from around 45 local crafters and artisans. Colorful garments for American Girl Dolls are a popular pick, says employee Phyllis Miller, with crocheted mittens, hats and baby booties selling like hotcakes. Many come in to peruse after stopping in neighboring businesses and end up leaving with a bag of stocking stuffers.
“One business does supply another,” Miller said.
At the Sweet Shop, co-owner Marty Diersen and candymaker Andrew Rommes have been spending long hours rolling out logs of anise candy for the shop’s holiday hard candy mix, the same recipe the family has used for 92 years. Sugar mixes with nostalgia in treats from the Sweet Shop, with classics like love food and cinnamon sticks, impossible to make in humid weather, filling the shelves for the winter months.
“We always say the cold weather sucks, but it’s great for making candy,” Rommes said.
Caramel is king for Christmas, Diersen noted, with turtles and sea salt and chocolate coated versions best sellers. Barbara Wrobel of New Braunfels, Texas, patiently waited in line Friday for two boxes of handcrafted chocolates, one for a relative in a local nursing home and one to take back south.
“I come here whenever I’m in town,” Wrobel said. “There aren’t many places you can buy fresh, homemade candy. Even in Texas there isn’t much. It’s a nice treat.”
Neighborhood Wrench is offering a dose of goodwill with gift purchases, pledging $10 to the Coulee Region Humane Society with each purchase of a car care punch card, and is collecting donations of food and bedding for the animal shelter as well.
For those missing garden season, Sunshine Floral offers arrangements and blooms in vibrant reds, greens and whites to counteract the winter doldrums, with wreaths and centerpieces to decorate the home or ship as gifts.
If you’re in the mood to treat yourself, stop by Uptowne Cafe for a hot chocolate and a sugar topped beignet. And don’t forget to top off the day by taking in the twinkling splendor of the Lights Over North Display in Copeland Park. It’s a touch of the North Pole, on the North Side.