Options for personalized gift-giving — and gift-making — in Downtown Madison
When it comes to gift-giving, it pays to shop — and craft — local.
“…Shopping local directly supports your community,” says Kira Rosenstiel, manager of Art Gecko, 510 State Street. “Downtown Madison has a tightknit web of stores owned and operated by local people. You can walk in to Art Gecko, Soap Opera, Anthology, and more in just a span of a few blocks and learn about this business, receive recommendations and information that inspire thoughtful gift-giving, and share that story with your loved ones over the gifting holidays, birthdays and other celebrations. Put the love you have for friends and family into how you shop for gifts and treats, and that love will come right back to you!”
Want to be more thoughtful in your gift-giving? Here are some options for handmade and handcrafted gifts in Downtown Madison.
A brick-and-mortar import store in business for more than 20 years, Art Gecko’s buyers travel to Indonesia, India, Thailand and Mexico and work with family-owned and operated businesses. Many of these businesses and artist collectives have been passed down through families for generations, and each artist and technique the store represents carries a significant cultural or familial heritage.
“We select every piece by hand, working with and directly supporting the artist who created it, also by hand and with love,” says Rosenstiel. “This also uniquely provides Art Gecko with the understanding of where the items come from, who makes them, what the working conditions are like and how much spirit is behind every product we select.”
When you purchase handmade gifts from cottage industry and brick-and-mortar retailers, adds Rosenstiel, you help provide fair wages for the artisans directly, and the shoppers and gift-givers end up with something completely unique that has been created with passion. “Each item we share with customers tells a story, and the small ‘imperfections’ that come from hand-creation show the dedication and appreciation that goes into the work,” she says.
One of the first Fair Trade organizations in the world, SERRV began in 1949 with a mission to help displaced European refugees trade their handcrafts for income after World War II.
“By selling their beautiful handcrafts, your purchase works to empower over 8,000 artisans and farmers every year, all over the world,” says Meredith Wodrich, manager of Madison’s SERRV Store at 224 State Street. “The products at SERRV are each filled with beautiful stories of overcoming hardship, and a celebration of culture and tradition.”
What makes handmade and handcrafted gifts so special, adds Wodrich, is that they are crafted with heart and attention to detail that add value to the objects.
Looking to get more hands on with your gift-giving? Revel, 107 N. Hamilton Street, is a modern crafting bar that hosts creative workshops and private parties.
A unique part of Revel is its drop-in Craft Bar, which is open five days per week, says owner Sarah Van Dyke. Guests can make a reservation or drop in.
“When they come to the Craft Bar, each guest can select a different project from our list of more than 20 DIY/craft options,” says Van Dyke. “We provide all the supplies and instructions, and guests get to complete the projects in a self-guided fashion while enjoying time with their friends — and a cocktail from our bar!”
In addition to the drop-in Craft Bar, Revel offers a rotating series of creative and lifestyle workshops. These workshops are a guided experience, where a knowledgeable instructor leads the group through a designated topic or project. Popular workshop topics include glass etching calligraphy, DIY cheeseboard making, flower arranging, and watercolor painting.
Van Dyke says her business aligns well with a general trend toward handmade holidays.
“In the past few years we’ve heard from many guests whose families are moving toward ‘handmade holidays’ and putting a focus on DIY and/or locally made gifts,” she says. “We’ve seen, firsthand, the joy and personal satisfaction that can come from creating a giftable item yourself … handmade gifts are a win-win in our book!”
The Soap Opera
The Soap Opera has been investing in the Madison community since 1972, offering bathing and grooming products for all genders and ages, specializing in natural, organic, and high-end bathing and grooming.
“When shopping your local retailer, you're investing in your community, which in turn helps our environment, schools, social programs and more,” says Stacey Scannell, owner of The Soap Opera. “Shopping local makes you a smart consumer. It shows you care about your community and want to continuously improve it. You know where your dollar is going.”
If you’re looking for a gift for that special someone, The Soap Opera offers custom scenting.
“At any time, you can stop in and create your very own scent, using both essential and perfume/cologne oils,” says Scannell. Once you create your own scent, there are numerous options for how to wear it, whether that’s in an oil, a spray fragrance, a lotion, or a bathing product like shampoo or body wash.
“All of our house products come unscented and can be custom scented with your own unique blend. Our house products are extremely natural or organic and come in a variety of sizes to meet all budgets.”
If you want to learn more about essential oils and custom scenting, The Soap Opera offers essential oil classes and lectures on bathing products; private custom scenting parties are also available.
Artist & Craftsman Supply
Artist and Craftsman Supply, 203 W. Gorham St., offers art supplies for beginners and professionals along with a wide array of crafting materials and toys. The store’s toy and game selections lean toward classic toys and contemporary games, along with many DIY and STEM learning options.
The store also offers classes and product demonstrations throughout the year; almost all are free of charge and in partnership with other local establishments.
“Our staff is comprised of working artists who are always eager to share not only new product information, but tricks and tips to help you either get started or work through some more technical questions that you might have,” says store manager Jason Levy, store manager.
He adds that Artist and Craftsman Supply is an entirely employee-owned company, so when you shop here, you are speaking with one of the owners.
“We all care very much about not only our inventory, but meeting the needs of our community,” he says. “We work in the store, but consider it an honor to be Madison’s art supply store.”
While a handmade gift feels special and is always unique, if that’s not your bag, Levy encourages people to find and support independent artists and artisans whenever possible: “Their work is not only a celebration of that person but supports and strengthens individualism overall.”
Anthology, 230 State St. , is a paper and craft shop with works by over 100 local and independent artists.
Owned by sisters Laura and Sachi Komai, the store’s mission is to facilitate creativity —through the work of the Komai sisters, through the artists that they work with, and through their customers. They offer a selection of craft supplies and books, mostly focused on paper arts, in the upstairs craft loft; the Komais’ work can be found throughout the store, as well as ornaments, prints, T-shirts, cards and more. They also work with local artists to produce Madison- and Wisconsin-specific designs, which are printed locally on Willy Street.
In addition, on many Saturday afternoons, Anthology offers various drop-in projects in the craft loft from 1 to 3 p.m.; the cost depends on the supplies but is typically under $20.
“The closer you get to your hands making something for someone, the more personal a gift gets,” says Laura Komai. “I personally feel that when I am making a gift for someone, it is as if you are weaving your affection for them into the work itself and I believe that even if the product falls short of what you wanted in terms of craftsmanship, it is hard to beat that kind of intent. Barring that, supporting the work of local artists and businesses is the next best thing. It's more personal, and it has a greater effect within your community than purchasing something that has been made from afar.”