Collier’s Weekly: Get Yourself a Gift This Week

You picked something nice for everyone else — now, visit these three places to find something nice for yourself.
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One of these years, we should all just shop for ourselves.

I’m sure that your loved ones got you thoughtful and clever gifts, and I’m sure you will enjoy and use most of them. But is it the exact pile of stuff you’d get if you handed yourself a wad of cash and went nuts? No, it’s not. We should declare one holiday season in the not-too-distant future as the get-yourself-what-you-want year: Everyone is required to buy themselves a pile of things they really want.

Even the kids. Tell them Santa is trying something new this year, then give them $200 and unleash them in the Target toy section.

Until then, you should at least buy yourself something nice this week. After all the stress and spending, don’t you deserve a treat? Let me suggest three of my favorite places to get myself a present — and, just to spread the love, three honorable mentions.

For Books: City of Asylum Bookstore
There’s a small-ish publishing arm of the New York Review of Books; everything I’ve bought from the label has been excellent. At City of Asylum Bookstore, there are two full shelves just for the NYRB books — one of several dedicated collections at this thoughtful, carefully curated bookshop I was pining for during lockdown. As soon as it was safe, I returned to take a long gander at those shelves and pick up a few more forgotten gems.

You can also browse the staff’s picks of notable new books in translation and find the work of City of Asylum’s writers in exile. Time your visit right, and you can begin reading your new selection with an excellent meal; 40 North is under the same roof.

One More: I also love strolling through the narrow rows at Amazing Books and Records’ two locations (Downtown and Squirrel Hill). You’ll always find something surprising on the densely packed shelves — and books and records are always buy-three-get-one-free.

For Records: The Government Center
I’ve popped into the expanded Government Center, along East Street in Deutschtown, twice in the past week — once with my pooch in tow, who enjoyed a complimentary dog treat at the register! — and found treasures, both new and used, on both occasions. The collection of new, often limited-edition releases is better than any I’ve ever seen in Pittsburgh (look for the bin of Record Store Day rarities), and the caliber of the used selections is strong. (I’m listening to a very good copy of Bob Seger’s “Live Bullet” as I write this; it was $4.)

A trip to Government Center is also an education. Look at the featured items on the walls and racks, and you’ll be introduced to dozens of new-to-you artists and bands, from the distant past to the immediate present. You’ll need to make a list of everything you want to check out — or, just roll the dice and buy something intriguing on the spot.

One More: I’ve been visiting the many, many branches of local chain The Exchange since I was a teen hungry for used CDs. The store now offers the best selection of Blu-Ray and DVD films in town; everything I’ve ever been looking for was either in the first store I checked, or available for a free overnight delivery to any shop I chose.

For Curiosities: The Weeping Glass
How to describe the stock at The Weeping Glass? Bizarre, perhaps. Witchy? Curious, certainly. Wait — I’ll let them handle it. The Allentown store’s homepage reads, in part, “Oddities & Curiosities; Unusual Gifts & Ephemera; Natural History & Odd Art; Melancholia & Sadness.” I take issue only with the last entry on that list; my reaction when visiting is always delight, not ennui of any sort.

I particularly like the “Odd Art” choices, which include remarkable reproductions of vintage natural-history posters, ’20s-style faux sideshow bills and much more. Do not, however, think this shop is only for your spooky friends (even if they do have a “Sad Merch for Sad Kids” section). There will be something to pique the curiosity of every visitor.

One More: Owing to Allentown’s increasing … gothishness, this isn’t even the only cabinet of curiosities on the block. Shop for natural products and apparel and more at Dr. Tumblety’s, a “time inspired specialty shop” planning on also opening a distillery in the near future.

Categories: Collier’s Weekly