A Survival Guide for Holiday Shopping in the Heights

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.

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Olivia Flores Alvarez