Who isn't looking for a pick-me-up these days? But how to feed that urge without the splurge?
I've been cruising around, looking at stores both large and small that provide plenty ofentertaining browsing and a load of satisfying purchases -- for under $20.
If you can't find something to brighten dreary winter days at the stores shown here (for you or those lucky friends on your gift list), then you're just not looking.
1902 W. Montrose Ave.; 773-769-2227, hazelchicago.com
This really is one-stop shopping for brightening our frigid sun-free zone. And if you're looking for a present, owner David Vail makes it easy. In the three-room shop you'll find small sections devoted to baby, men, plus lots of unique jewelry (vintage and costume), housewares, cards and -- even -- flowers. Seriously, Hazel has it all. If they served coffee and snacks you'd never have to leave.
Ravenswood locals have been shopping Hazel since it opened 6 1/2 years ago, but I just discovered it. Now, you can't keep me away.
While I was there a customer walked in the front door and almost shrieked with joy, "This IS the store!"
Within my self-inflicted $20 budget, I found a trunkload of irresistibles, including whiteceramic salt-and-pepper shakers shaped like modern art mini-boulders ($10). Also, magnet bud vases made from test tubes ($7), and live and silk flowers to put in them; cuff links shaped like safety pins ($14); a pretty pink starburst rhinestone ring ($9.50) and on and on and ... on.
1924 W. Division St.; 773-227-2707, renegadehandmade.com
If you love D.I.Y., handmade, etsy.com, this is the place to shop for instant gratification (though the store recently opened an online component as well). I didn't find as many under $20 items as I'd expected, but there still were plenty including "kitsch plates" switch plates and outlet covers made from vintage wallpaper ($12); cross-stitched pins of hearts and little girl heads ($18); and a brightly colored hardbound mini memo pad with pen ($17.50). There's a large selection of posters, art, T-shirts and onesies for infants. Many of the crafters are Chicagoans.
Ten Thousand Villages
121 N. Marion St., Oak Park; 708-848-4572, tenthousandvillages.com
This fair-trade retailer, with several shops in the Chicago area, stocks handmade jewelry, wearables, decorative items, toys and more by artisans from around the globe at prices that make you think they've left a digit off the tag.
I confess I broke my $20 limit when I saw three handsome plastic bangles from India in colors I coveted in a pretty drawstring bag ($24). But there was loads of jewelry -- and everything else -- well within my budget, including other bright bangles from Africa ($6 each); miniature magnetic picture frames made from recycled chip bags (4 for $16); prettily wrapped clove and honey soaps from India (3 for $10); hand-carved onyx pears and apples ($14) and candle holders (starting at $6) from Pakistan.
The volunteers who staff the shop are informative and welcoming and they wrap your gifts with heart.
9500 S. Western Ave.; Evergreen Park; 708-857-7319, claires.com
Forget what you think you know about this pink-and-purple emporium that pre-teens love. Once you get past the Jonas Brothers tote bags ($24 reduced to $12) and garish leg warmers ($10), there's lots more for women of all ages.
Walls here are lined with costume jewelry that is the very definition of timeless, such as a 5-foot-long pearl and gold chain necklace ($9.50) or silvery hoop earrings (buy 2, get one free, $6). There are Claire's all over Chicagoland, and at the one in Oak Park I yearned for a leopard and black vinyl wallet for $12 and found enough hair accessories to take me and every woman I know or will ever meet into the next millennium.
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More no-splurge ideas
Lipsticks: No brighter bang for your buck on a gray winter day. Sephora (520 N. Michigan Ave.; 312-494-9598, sephora.com) has house brands in 85 colors (I counted) for $12 each.
Colored tights: They're everywhere, and only $3.90 at H&M (840 N. Michigan Ave.; 312-640-0060, hm.com).
Accessories: Armloads of bracelets, belts, shoes, hats, bags, necklaces scarves, sunglasses all under $20 and often under $5 at Forever 21/XXI (540 N. Michigan Ave.; 312-329-0485, forever21.com).
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1. Nepalese woven scarf of recycled silk ($18), Ten Thousand Villages.
2. Touch of summer sunflower, or daisies in four colors, hair clip/brooch ($4.50), Claire's.
3. Retro-print trivets from Sweden ($9.50), Hazel.
4. Small vinyl cosmetic zip ($16), Renegade Handmade.
5. Tiny beautiful boxes of Italian Leone candies ($6.50), Hazel.
6. Wacky argyle-patterned sunglasses that roll up into their own included film canister case ($6), Renegade Handmade.