Gifts within the community

As Ashland's shop owners begin preparing for the holiday season, they don't worry much about the enormous shift Americans have made towards shopping online.

"What we have as a specialty store is very tactile and very emotional," says Brian Beels, who owns Unicorn Gifts and Toys with his wife and mother in law. "The emotional shoppers are not going to shop online; they are going to browse in the shops in their town. If you go shopping to feed your soul, sitting in front of a computer isn't going to do it."

Many of the toys that Unicorn Gifts features are classic wooden toys that involve balls, pegs and hammers; they could be generally termed "educational" though fantasy toys are popular this year, especially fairies. Unicorn Gifts also has a variety of realistic dolls including one that is designed to be appropriate for the elderly when having a pet is not possible. They also stock mouth-blown ornaments, hand-painted nutcrackers and, of course, unicorns.

Most of the store owners noted their move away from Chinese products, due to recent fears about the lead content of paint used on toys.

Conny Shadle, the owner of Bug-a-boo, says the fear generated from the news made people consider their choices when buying toys for their children.

"During the summer people started asking which toys were not from China, but Ashland is a town where most people are already tuned into buying eco-friendly toys," she says.

While the IPod and Tickle-Me-Elmo are the hot items in mainstream America, Shadle, like most Ashland shop owners, is not influenced by the hype. Instead, she relies on standards such as pirate ships and castles; toys that are always popular and, as she says, "support the imagination."

To support the mind, The Nature Store focuses more on educational projects, toys and games for older kids. It has the distinction of being the only place in Ashland to get a quality microscope.

Other stores to find gifts for children are Small Change and Paddington Station.

Paddington Station is one of the more eclectic shops downtown and is good for finding gifts for adults as well. Pam Hammond, who owns the store with her husband Don, says that her store is especially great for browsing because of the diversity in products. According to Hammond themed gifts are a nice idea for those who have trouble deciding what to get.

She says, "Birds are very directional this season. For example, you could pick up a nest and eggs, a little ceramic bird, a nice wreath and get it gift wrapped."

Jenna Hobbs, an employee at Allyson's of Ashland, suggests buying a quality bottle of wine or champagne for hard-to-shop-for people.

Allyson's has a wide assortment and offers tastings on the weekends.

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