A New Approach to Gift Giving

by Heather Larson | Photo © Nanaimo Museum

Shopping at Museum Stores

This holiday giving season, I urge you to think twice about department store lines and, instead, shop at one of the Northwest’s many museum stores. That’s where you’ll find me. These gems are stocked to the rafters with quality craftsmanship, a wide selection of unique gift options and price-points for any budget. As a bonus, you’ll also have the opportunity to tour the museums they represent. But if you’re in a hurry and can’t spend the time, you can browse most of these stores without paying museum admission. Some even offer online shopping. And you’ll wrap up your shopping feeling good that your dollars are funding an important cultural institution. Here are a few of my favorites around the Northwest, but this by no means exhausts the possibilities.

At the Portland Art Museum in Portland, Oregon, Native-American-made baskets, sculptures and clay bowls make perfect gifts for the art lovers on your list. Books (a huge display), umbrellas in rainbow hues and pearl-handled butter knives might work for the impossible-to-shop-for family member. What about a stunning Native American mask painted in earth tones and gilded with feathers for someone special? Wrap whatever you buy in the store’s wrapping paper in patterns you won’t find anywhere else. portlandartmuseum.org; travelportland.com.

Americas-Car-MuseumFor the car nut on your list, you can’t go wrong at America’s Car Museum in Tacoma, Washington. The Remote-Controlled Mini that resembles a soda can and the Thinking Putty that looks like an oil slick won’t break your budget. But the deal not to miss is the LeMay souvenir blanket that has a handle so you can grab it and go (on sale through the end of the year). For the ladies, purses made out of recycled seat belts and jewelry of all kinds fit the bill. If a hard-to-please teen is on your list, try the slot car track that’s a retail version of the actual museum display or an internal combustion engine kit. lemaymuseum.org; traveltacoma.com.

The gift shop at the Museum of Anthropology (MOA) at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, B.C., has a delightful array of scarves in silk, wool, viscose and with different Northwest Coast designs. I still want one of the miniature bentwood

boxes that come with a certificate of authenticity plus information about the artist and the design. Although known for their Northwest Coast First Nations merchandise, the MOA store also offers pieces that reflect the beauty and diversity of the permanent collections in the museum. moa.ubc.ca; tourismvancouver.com.

On Vancouver Island a stop at the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria reveals numerous books detailing the province’s history. To satisfy the younger set, look for puppets and clothing featuring the museum’s Woolly Mammoth. royalbcmuseum.bc.ca; tourismvictoria.com.

The most popular seller of all time at the Nanaimo Museum in Nanaimo, B.C., is Nanaimo Bar Tea Towels, which have the recipe for that sweet delight printed on them. And children can play for hours with the spinners, pick-up sticks and marbles available in the shop, just like kids did 100 years ago. nanaimomuseum.ca; tourismnanaimo.com.

Famous for its potatoes, Idaho has a Potato Museum in Blackfoot (between Idaho Falls and Pocatello) with a museum store attached. Fun stocking stuffers range from potato-shaped vegetable peelers, potato lotion, spud soap, Darth Tater t-shirts to Mr. Potato Head toys and Spud Shooters. idahopotatomuseum.com; seidaho.org.

In Boise, Idaho, the gift shop at the World Center for Birds of Prey carries unique bird-themed merchandise, including plush birds, t-shirts, hats, an owl puppet and lots of books. peregrinefund.org; boise.org.

Marine life is a recurrent theme at the Whale Museum in Friday Harbor, Washington. Kids love the plush sea life replicas and socks adorned with whales, while men go for the hoodies, jackets and knit caps. You can even adopt an orca for a loved one who already has everything—a worthy cause and a special gift idea.  whalemuseum.org; visitsanjuans.com.