date published: November 16, 2009

by Josh B. Wardrop

Hard as it is to believe, Christmas and Hanukkah are nearly upon us, and whether you’re Burl Ives or Ebenezer Scrooge (or, hopefully, somewhere in the middle), the traditional holiday shopping season is in full swing. Because we don’t want you to end up doing your gift-buying on December 24 at an all-night truck stop (wives like beef jerky and NASCAR bumper stickers, right?), Panorama offers a rundown of the best neighborhoods in the city for unleashing your inner elf, and even some gift suggestions for those special people on your list. On your mark, get set…shop!

Back Bay
This super-chic neighborhood is right in the middle of everything that makes Boston a super city—close to fine dining, cool nightclubs and historic landmarks—but it’s primarily earned a reputation for the strong concentration of great shopping on its two main thoroughfares, Newbury and Boylston streets. Newbury’s been described as Boston’s own Rodeo Drive, and if you’ve got anyone on your list that’s into designer clothing, there’s no place you’ll find more of it. From Armani to Ralph Lauren to Burberry and Marc Jacobs, all the fashion industry’s top names can be found alongside local boutiques like Johnny Cupcakes (279 Newbury St., 617-375-0100) and Diane Agoun’s uniquely modern and trendy Soodee. And even on ritzy Newbury, there are still bargains to be found: international favorite H & M has a location there, while that Boston-born institution Filene’s Basement still teems with marked-down fashions for men and women. Heck, even man’s best friend can get a new outfit and accompanying accessories for the holidays at Pawsh Dog Boutique (31 Gloucester St., 617-297-2045).

Shoe fiends can get their kicks at Rick Walker’s (306 Newbury St., 617-482-7426), John Fluevog (302 Newbury St., 617-266-1079) and Steve Madden (324A Newbury St., 617-262-4600).

Fans of the bling can be dazzled in the Back Bay by gorgeous jewelry creations from legendary Boston designer John Lewis; the venerable Shreve, Crump & Low; giftware and jewelry masters Lux, Bond & Green; and, of course, the first name in glitter and sparkle, Cartier.

Those looking to beautify their abodes can hit Newbury Street’s collection of display and retail galleries, including The Society of Arts & Crafts, which specializes in contemporary American craftwork in media ranging from glassware to ceramic sculpture to furniture; Galleria Florentia, which boasts breathtaking bronze and stone sculpture, museum-quality paintings and other works created by some of Europe’s top artisans; L’Attitude, known for its indoor and outdoor contemporary sculpture; and the International Poster Gallery, home to authentic vintage art posters and prints from virtually every style and period over the last 120 years.

The Back Bay even boasts a pair of “malls,” although they’re unlike the Orange Julius/Spencer Gifts-laden teen hangouts we might associate with the term. This holiday season, take advantage of one-stop shopping at glamorous high-end Back Bay venues like Copley Place, the sleek and sophisticated home of top shops like Nieman Marcus, Barneys New York, Tiffany, Burberry and Emporio Armani, and the gorgeous, sun-drenched Shops at Prudential Center, which satisfies shoppers with top-notch eateries like Legal Sea Foods, P.F. Chang’s, Haru and others, as well as specialty retailers like Frette, L’Occitane, Warlox Wireless and Ross-Simons and department stores like Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord & Taylor.

Charles Street
Ritzy Beacon Hill’s main commercial drag is a beacon for shoppers who like the finer things in life—be it antiques (Devonia Antiques, 43 Charles St., 617-523-8313; A Room with a Vieux, 20 Charles St., 617-973-6600), fine art (Caswell Company Ltd., 31 Charles St., 617-523-9868; Tesorino Gallery, 70 Charles St., 617-742-0061), gorgeous, hand-tooled and colorful cowboy boots, belts and jackets (Helen’s Leather) or even decadent chocolates (Beacon Hill Chocolates, 92B Pinckney St., 617-725-1900), there’s bound to be something perfect here for your most blue-blooded relatives.

Downtown Crossing
Once the premiere shopping district in Boston and home to late, great department stores like Jordan Marsh and the original Filene’s Basement, Downtown Crossing retains its vibrant commercial status thanks to a combination of pushcart vendors, a number of bustling retail outlets and heavy foot traffic. The flagship Macy’s store in Boston resides here, alongside smaller shops like Aldo Shoes (415 Washington St., 617-357-6891), which offers 50% off sale shoes every day. The city’s original jewelry district is still represented by shops like E.B. Horn Co. (429 Washington St., 617-542-3902) and DePrisco Diamond Jewelers (333 Washington St., 617-227-3339). And the Corner Mall offers a variety of popular shops and an extensive food court, all under one roof.

Fanueil Hall Marketplace
The name says it all—the rows of buildings that sit in the shadow of famed historic Faneuil Hall are packed with shops selling everything from top-of-the-line professional-grade running shoes (Bill Rodgers Running Center) to women’s sports fashions (Lucy’s League, 617-248-3986) to CDs, books, DVDs and pop culture toys (Newbury Comics). The city’s most popular tourist attraction, you can shop here all day long, then refresh with food and drink from one of 17 nearby restaurants.

Harvard Square
As you’d expect from its proximity to America’s most renowned institution of higher learning, Cambridge’s Harvard Square offers great shopping options for the bookworms and young hipsters on your shopping list. The Square is home to the area’s finest vintage bookstores—including the Globe Corner Bookstore (90 Mt. Auburn St., 617-497-6277), The Grolier Poetry Book Shop (6 Plympton St., 617-547-4648) and Schoenhof’s Foreign Books (76A Mt. Auburn St., 617-547-8855)—as well as edgy clothing stores like Urban Outfitters (11 JFK St., 617-864-0070) and Hootenanny (36 JFK St., 617-864-6623). Berk’s (50 JFK St., Cambridge, 617-492-9511) sells everything from sandals to sneakers to boots and boasts a constantly updated clearance rack loaded with name brands, while TistiK abounds with creative handmade bags and other accessories imported from South America.

North End
With its mouth-watering Italian bakeries, the North End is a good spot to pick up goodies to leave by the tree for Santa. It also boasts stylish boutiques for the woman in your life, from denim emporium In-jean-ius (441 Hanover St., 617-523-JEAN) to contemporary clothier Casa di Stile (371 Hanover St., 857-233-4885) to retro-fabulous vintage shop The Velvet Fly (424 Hanover St., 617-557-4359), to fashion eyeware outfitters Sol Optics. High Gear Jewelry offers wallet-friendly sterling silver pieces, charm bracelets and other items that will delight any lover of beautiful jewelry, while Filthy Rich offers replicas of pieces worn by celebrities like Jackie Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe and Cameron Diaz at prices that belie the store’s high-rent nomenclature. Finally, A Matter of Face carries high-end cosmetics sure to be welcome in any fashionable lady’s make-up case.

South End
For the artsy urbanite on your list, Boston’s South End is the best place to find modern fashions and housewares to delight them this holiday season. Tremont Street is the prime shopping drag, boasting spots like jeweler Laura Preshong’s eponymous gallery (558 Tremont St., 617-236-7660); stylish housewares boutique Vessel (652 Tremont St., 617-425-5292); and upscale shoe emporium Leokadia (667 Tremont St., 617-247-7463). And the South End remains a hotspot for funky menswear at shops like Motley (623 Tremont St., 617-247-6969), high-end consignment boutique Bobby from Boston (19 Thayer St., 617-423-9299) and Uniform (511 Tremont St., 617-247-2360). Finally, a real hidden gem for shoe lovers is Zapatos (90 Wareham St., 617-423-2842), a true hit-or-miss oddity that’s been known to offer up name brands like Kate Spade, Michael Kors, Anne Klein and more for extravagant bargains and where mixed bins of Italian designer shoes can be found for $10 a pair.


Talking Shop
Holiday shopping can be a head-scratcher for those who make a conscious effort to skip the malls 364 days a year. Panorama consulted designer Anthony Corey, owner of Anthony Corey Neckwear and Anthony Corey Design and a host on local TV network NECN’s “Styleboston,” to get shopping tips that will make the holidays less of a hassle for the retail-impaired.

What’s the biggest mistake we tend to make when it comes to holiday shopping?
By far, it’s waiting too long to do it—you don’t want to be that person running around on Christmas Eve with panic in your eyes. The goal should be to think of shopping not as a chore, but something fun. Men tend to have this problem more often than women—I’d suggest that guys plan to do their shopping as part of a relaxing day. Go out to lunch, grab a couple of beers, and just pop into a few shops along the way. Or, go with your significant other—you may not end up buying much for each other while you’re together, but you get a chance to see the kind of items they respond to, and that will make gift-giving easier.

Buying clothing for another person seems particularly rife with potential landmines. Is there a way to do it successfully? The best rule, if you’re going to buy clothing, is to keep it simple and classic. You can’t go wrong, for either gender, with a beautiful cashmere sweater. Bottom line, don’t let some salesperson convince you that a certain outfit or style is “in” and that, consequently, it’s for everyone. Making some sort of big, trendy statement with clothing can go wrong in a hurry. And if you do have a girlfriend or wife who’s into high fashion, that’s when a gift certificate makes a good gift. Normally, it’s not very romantic to hand over a plastic card, but if it’s for someplace really extravagant—like Jimmy Choo or Christian Louboutin, for a shoe lover—that’s a gift that’s exciting to receive.

And, as Charlie Brown has taught us, the holidays don’t have to be all about commercialism and the size of the price tag, right?
Absolutely not. Particularly in the last couple of years, people seem to be agreeing that more sentimental gifts are the best ones. I think personalized things make a nice statement—a monogrammed terry-cloth robe, an engraved pen or a silver frame with a picture of your family or a favorite pet. In most cases, it’s those little luxuries—things that people wouldn’t buy for themselves—that make the best gifts.

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