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A Survival Guide for Holiday Shopping in the Heights

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Remember that "Buy Local" bumper sticker you have on your car? That idea extends to more than just fresh vegetables and craft beer. It also means buying gifts and wares from local artisans, local designers and tiny, independent shops. And shopping for the holidays is the perfect time to buy local.

Here's our guide to holiday shopping in the Heights. We'll tell you where to find what, what kinds of prices to expect and where to park while you shop. (Sorry, Walmart. Sorry, Target. You're in the neighborhood, but no retail giants are allowed on our list.)

There's one caveat: We’ll leave it to you to differentiate between antique, vintage and plain old used. Ditto art, fine art and folk art.

You can’t say that you’ve shopped in the Heights if you haven’t shopped along West 19th (from Yale to Ashland). There are some two dozen boutiques, cafes and specialized shops. And while each has its own flavor, the general vibe on 19th is boho, vintage, low-key cool.

One of the most popular shops on 19th is Casa Ramirez FOLKART Gallery (241 West 19th, 713-880-2420). Owners Macario and Chrissie Ramirez have a wonderful selection of Mexican art, books and decor — and an encyclopedic knowledge about the artisans and traditions behind them. We especially love the framed lotería images (la mano, la luna and like that).

If you haven't already been to the shop, you probably already know it for its annual Día de los Muertos celebrations, but Casa Ramirez does Christmas up right, too. Holiday ornaments, wall hangings and art are among the shop's best-selling items.

Prices here for the authentic, usually hand-crafted art work and clothing are among the most reasonable in town. Oh, and they also usually have a big batch of free cookies — just don't get any crumbs on merchandise.

AG Antiques (313 West 19th, 713-862-1009) anchors the lower end of the 19th Street row of shops. Housing some 50 individual vendor booths, AG has a wide array of, well, pretty much everything (including that cactus-growing teapot seen above). There's lots of furniture, collectibles, tons of table- and cookware, knickknacks, home decor (what most of us call “stuff”), jewelry, clothes, art, more jewelry and more decor.

We stopped by Mostly Mexican Antiques and Collectibles (713-253-3537), inside AG Antiques, and talked to shop co-owner Cathey Merrill. The name of her shop is literal — it’s mostly Mexican and it’s mostly antiques and collectibles. The vintage work (lots of mid-century ceramics) she’s gotten from collectors, while the new works she gets directly from the artists.

That’s typical of the AG vendors: Each shop has a general focus or specialty and the owners are experienced buyers. They hand-select their merchandise, often know the backstory of the item and are usually pretty accurate about the age of the piece.

Lots of the jewelry you'll find at the shops on our list is vintage or unique and handmade. You won't find vintage pieces at Erica Del Gardo Jewelry Designs (329 West 19th, 713-802-1977), but unique, handmade pieces? Ah, Del Gardo has plenty of those. (See our 100 Creatives profile of Erica Del Gardo.)

Del Gardo sits down with clients to design something specifically to their taste or works on her own ideas — lots of people in Houston do that. She works the metal, adds semi- and precious stones to create the jewelry — lots of people in Houston do that, too. And then sells the finished piece from her storefront/workshop — lots and lots of people do that. The thing is, very few people do all three.

Del Gardo takes commissions, of course, but if you don't have time to wait (the design and creation process can take a few weeks when she's busy), her showroom has plenty of finished pieces you can select from. Her work isn't cheap (no $15 rings made out of beads and wire), but considering the pieces are made of precious metals and stones, it's very affordable.

Along with her own designs, Del Gardo carries a line of wedding rings that can be customized and finished to any particular requests.

New and vintage clothing is high on everyone's shopping list and there are plenty of boutiques and small shops in the Heights to choose from. There's Jubilee (325 West 19th, 713-869-5885), with lots of trendy women's wear along with shelves filled with jewelry (much of it hand-crafted), shoes and cowboy boots. You'll also find quality housewares and decor. Jubilee has plenty of seasonal items, so keep it in mind next Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day and Halloween.

Another shop with lots of women's wear is Emerson Rose (350 West 19th, 832-538-1487). You'll want to follow Emerson Rose on Instagram for frequent updates on newly arrived merchandise. Emerson Rose has its own parking lot behind the store (enter the lot and the store on West 18th).

Looking for small gifts of the non-wearable type? Try Dramatika Custom Frame and Gifts (331 West 19th, 713-868-5050). Look for framed prints, coffee cups with clever slogans, greeting cards, even a few folk art-ish signs and wall hangings. Of course, if you have any prints or art to frame, Dramatika has hundreds of styles and colors to choose from.

If you're looking for bargain prices but still want quality merchandise, there are several resale stores in the Heights, a couple of which make for good holiday gift shopping. There are some fantastic finds here, but the sheer number of items you have to search through can make shopping rather daunting. (We recently found a lovely little black dress in perfect condition and with a big-name label for $10.)

The most upscale of them is Houston Junior Forum (1815 Rutland, 713-868-6970). You'll find Louis XVI mirrors ($1,200), paintings by René Genis ($998) and other fine art; full sets of china and silverware; and quality men's and women's clothing. The store's strongest selection is certainly furniture. Look for gently used pieces in good condition with prices to correspond (nothing's dirt cheap, but everything's very, very reasonable).

Goodwill Select Store and Donation Center (215 West 20th, 713-970-1782) has furniture, kitchenware, china, clothes, shoes and art. The quality of the items ranges from OMG! to junk-tique fodder, especially among the clothes and art. You'll run across some genuine finds, including vintage clothing, but it will take some searching.

Insider tips: Check with the stores for extended shopping hours. During the holidays, several are open later in the evening than usual.

Parking. It can be a problem if you’re visiting the 19th Street shops. If you’re going to only one store, look for a spot in front of the shop. There’s lots of in-and-out traffic on West 19th. You might have to go around the block one or two times, but you’ll usually find a spot as someone is leaving.

If you’re planning to hit several shops, try the 200 block of West 19th. The Baptist Temple Church in the Heights, which is on 20th, has a large parking lot on 19th (between a small office building and the back of Sand Dollar). The church generously shares that space with the shopping public, according to shopkeeper Erica Del Gardo.

There’s another small lot next to Casa Ramirez. Well, actually, it’s not a parking lot so much as a really wide alley, but there are a dozen or so spaces there. Neither of those two lots has "Parking Here" signs or anything else to mark its entrance, so be on the lookout for them.

Remember, Emerson Rose has parking behind the shop.

And if all else fails, you can park on a side street. You might have to walk a block or two, but parking on the side streets is usually available. Watch for “no parking” signs (there are only a few) and be sure not to block anyone’s driveway. (Don’t be a jerk and think that it’s okay to block a driveway because you’ll only be there a minute. And don’t even think of “borrowing” a handicap space!)

The Junior Forum and Goodwill stores have dedicated parking lots.

It also doesn't hurt to do a little planning in advance. Visit 19thStreetHeights.com for more information about all of the shops, jewelry and specialty stores, eateries, salons and purveyors of antiques.

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