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Local gift shopping offers variety and novelty
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“The magi, as you know, were wise men--wonderfully wise men--who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication.”

So said O. Henry.

But you might prove your wisdom, saving the gifted a trip back to the store with a bit of judicious foresight by buying unique and buying local.

So perhaps we can begin with a trip down our local Main Streets.

At the Village Greenhouse in Gays Mills, you walk in to a vivid display of the bright red poinsettias. If there is a plant as emblematically tied to Christmas as the evergreen tree, it is this Central American plant. A custom that began in the Americas, the poinsettia legend says that long ago, a poor peasant girl in Mexico had no gift to place before the altar of the Virgin and the Christ Child on Christmas Eve. Not wanting to go to the church empty handed, she gathered some bushes from the side of the road. As she placed them on the altar, a miracle happened! The bushes burst into bright, beautiful blooms of brilliant red! And so, in Mexico the poinsettia became known as “Flor de Noche Buena” or “Flower of Christmas Eve.”

It’s estimated that 52 million poinsettia are sold each year in the U.S.

At the Village Greenhouse, you can purchase healthy plants that can give many seasons of pleasure with a little care.

Perhaps the one you are shopping for lacks the green thumb…the owner of the Village Greenhouse, Joe Brandt, is prepared.

Joe can provide cut flowers, arrangements that can be wired anywhere to give the recipient the joy of nature’s fleeting beauty. Or for a more lasting display, Joe can design an arrangement in silk flowers and artificial greenery to be placed in one of the many decorative pots found upon his shelves.

The Greenhouse also offers humorous tee shirts, magnets and bumper stickers for those who like to make a bit of a statement.

A drive of a few miles west brings you to the Mt. Sterling Cooperative Creamery. Located on Highway 171 east of the junction with Highway 27, the award-winning cheese producers offer ready-made or design your own gift boxes to take home and deliver or to have shipped anywhere in the country.

The member-owned-and-operated co-op makes a wide variety of goat cheeses, which are featured in their gift boxes along with paired meats, jams, honey and maple syrups.

If goat cheese is not your thing, they also offer a wide variety of traditional cow cheeses and artisan cheeses to choose from.

“We do all of our shipping on Mondays and Tuesdays,” Shannon Adams, the co-op’s office manager explained. “So, if you want something shipped and received by Christmas, we will need those orders in by noon on Monday, Dec. 19.”

Up the road, at the intersection of Highway 171 and Highway 27, you will find the Old Mt. Sterling Store – Finders, Keepers. Located in one of Mt. Sterling’s two original general stores built in the 1800’s and still possessed of the original floors, shelves and tin ceiling!

Finder Keepers ran for a brief time in the late 80’s as Quamme’s Country Corner. Barbara Quamme wanted to see the store reopen and began renovating the space with the help of family. She now has a portion of the first floor open with plans to expand as renovations progress.

Finders Keepers is a collectables and consignment shop offering new and antique collectables, new and gently used clothing and locally produced jams, jellies, pickles, candies, caramels and more.

The caramels are a special treat, made with local butter and described by Quamme as quite divine.

 “It’s an eclectic mix in the store,” Quamme says. “Without the help of my family, I would not have been able to make this work.”

There is literally something for everyone at Finders-Keepers in Mt. Sterling.

The store has seasonal hours. They will be open Friday through Sunday from 10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. until the first week of January and then will reduce to winter hours opening on the first weekend of the month.

The apple orchards are another place to consider, as you make your shopping rounds.

With an extensive gift shop, Sunrise Orchard also offers gift packages that can be sent anywhere in the U.S. With three sizes of apple boxes varying from a peck (one layer) to a bushel (five layers) or custom boxes with regional cheeses, Amish candy, jams, honey and soup mixes, packages are shipped out on Mondays. Apple shipping ends on Wednesday, Dec. 14 and custom gift boxes on Wednesday, Dec. 21, so you want to make your trip to the orchard soon if you want to send a box to a loved one for Christmas!

The Kickapoo Exchange Natural Food Co-operative located at 209 Main Street in Gays Mills, is another stop of many possible if you care to give the gift of food. Violet Dreams, a bakery in Boscobel, offers a number of locally made breads through the co-op.

Also on their shelves of the food co-operative are items quite specific to the Kickapoo Valley—locally produced honey, maple syrup, pickles and coffee.

Tee shirts and sweatshirts specific to Gays Mills are also found at the Kickapoo Exchange. Some of the designs help support the Gays Mills Public Library, with all profits going back to the library.

Norskhaven, located on Highway 171 near Kickapoo Orchard, offers a wide selection of regionally themed gifts with a chance to sit down mid-shop for a coffee and cake break.

You can also find stocking stuffers over at Lana’s Family Hair Care. For the appearance conscious person, a variety of stocking size hair care items is on hand. Lana and Denise both offer gift certificates, and not just for hair styling. Try giving a manicure or pedicure this year. It’s a bit of luxury that can make the gifted feel rather special.

Wander over to Seneca and you find Johnson’s One Stop. While we are all accustomed to thinking of the One Stop for groceries, lumber and farm supplies, the One Stop also offers a wide selection of gift items for all ages. Remembering to stop in Seneca could mean saving a trip to LaCrosse or Madison. With toys and games, small kitchen appliances, braided rugs, scented candles and more, Johnson’s One Stop has much to offer.

Most businesses offer gift certificates, which can prove a creative way to give to those you love. Giving the useful gift…

For example, for the pet lover a gift certificate from Apple Valley Veterinary Clinic can be used for anything from pet care to pet food. Perhaps a gift certificate from the vet along with a pet adoption from Crawford Area Shelter for Animals (CASA, online at for your child’s first pet and a joyful lesson in caring for others responsibly?

Don’t be afraid to talk to your mother’s mechanic over at Black Hawk Auto. Your sister has four kids? Perhaps a gift certificate from the Kickapoo Locker…

In these times of economic incertitude, a purchase in a small independent shop becomes a gift greater than the package. While the politicians’ debate austerity and trickle down economics, our pennies spent at home amount to keeping jobs in the community where they belong and sharing amongst each other the bounty we produce.