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Give holiday shopping a handmade touch

Some of the many types of soap available on Lavender Label’s shelves.
Courtesy Lavender Label
By Tammy Scileppi

They say the best gifts are the ones you make yourself. Scrapbooks are wonderful, but let’s face it, buying something special for that special someone saves time, especially around the holidays.

So, if you’re working on your gift list and can’t decide what to get for your favorite co-worker, new girlfriend or Uncle Harry and Aunt Juanita, here’s a great tip: Why not buy locally made, handcrafted products? They’re the next best thing to making it yourself, and you probably already know that artisanal items make fabulous, budget-friendly gifts.

Whether it’s a crocheted baby sweater or an interesting ceramic vase, a hand-poured, organic lavender candle or an original painting—they’ll surely appreciate that thoughtful, one-of-a-kind gem you picked out especially for them.

If you’re a jewelry lover or know someone who is, did you know you can also stock up on striking, locally designed pieces at bargain prices, when you visit Ridgewood Market?

And if you’re also thinking vintage, retro, or Boho Chic, why not check out Lockwood Shop in Astoria or Jackson Heights? These days, few people—especially millennials—can resist that artisanal/nostalgic combo, whether it’s in clothing or home décor. For more gifting ideas from days gone by, stop by Stray Vintage on Skillman Avenue in Sunnyside.

Just in time for the holiday season, neighborhood shop owners are revamping their merchandise, while local vendors are getting ready to sell their creations at fleas and holiday markets throughout the borough.

Where else can you find these specially made, one-of-a-kind treasures, without having to schlep to Manhattan or Brooklyn?

Here’s a curated sampling of places across Queens that offer a mix of handcrafted offerings made by locals, as well as regular items. You can find plenty of giftable options at reasonable prices, and there’s a wide variety of unique products to choose from, which will make perfect Hanukkah, Christmas or Kwaanza presents.

Another nice thing about gifting handmade—you’re helping local artisans, many of whom make a living from selling what they craft.

Astoria shop owners Vivian Dritsas and Elena Poumpouras of Lavender Label have been gearing up for the holidays and making sure there is plenty of soap to go around, because customers can’t get enough of their homemade line of great-smelling natural bath and body products.

“Our soaps are made of quality organic and/or sustainable oils, such as coconut, olive, palm, castor, shea, sunflower and safflower oils. We occasionally play around with recipes and add jojoba, avocado and meadowfoam oils,” Dritsas noted.

“We have a huge array of scents from pure essential oils of lavender, peppermint, tea tree, lemongrass, rosemary and geranium, as well as fragrance oils, like vanilla, cedar, pumpkin, honey and pomegranate.” These are some of their most popular sellers.

At Lavender Label, you’ll find a grand list of items that make unique gifts, including a full bath and body line, accessories for adults and children, and quality kids clothing from infant to adolescents.

Bath and body products and candles range from $4 – $22. Kids’ clothes, $12 – $100. Accessories and toys, $6 – $50.

Dritsas opened Lavender Line—which was initially called The Little Soap Shop—back in 2008, after making and selling her soap at fairs and private events for two years. “Soaping had become an obsession and so I decided to quit my full-time job at Citi and go all the way with this,” she recalled.

At first, she made all the soap in the shop in small batches and soon began making and selling other products, like bath salts, soy candles, body butters and lip butters.

“A few years later Elena, an old friend and co-worker came on board. Elena and I became partners in November 2014. I knew instantly she and I would have a great dynamic,” said Dritsas.

“But it was difficult to keep up with the business because when you’re making cold process soap you have to cure each batch for a minimum of four weeks before selling it. So, I reached out to a friend of mine, who is also a soap maker and hired her to make ‘our special recipe’ for us. We have been using her since. She is based in Long Island, so everything is as local as you get. We will make small custom batches there and still make our salts, body butters, lip butters in the shop and finish most other products on premises.”

Lavender Line is at 22-07b 36th St. in Astoria. Call them at (718) 704-4408 or go to thelittlesoapshop.net to find out more.

More giving treasures can be found at Matted LIC Gallery (46-36 Vernon Blvd, Long Island City). And while you’re there, you can chat with the local artists whose works are on display through Nov. 30. Who wouldn’t love finding a piece of original art under their Christmas tree or Hanukkah bush?

Ridgewood Market (657 Fairview Ave.) is another spot packed with giftable finds. So, if you go, browse and shop to your heart’s content. They’re doing two markets this holiday season—a Sunday afternoon Brunch Market Dec. 11 and a Saturday Night Bazaar Dec. 18—with over 40 vendors per market, a prize raffle, a 50/50 raffle and much more, according to founder/organizer Sarah Feldman.

“The quality of vendors gets better every year,” Feldman noted. She also provided a sampling of some of the vendor submissions. No doubt, you’ll discover a cornucopia of artisanal offerings made by locals. Those offerings include coconut oil-based hair and body products; wood signs and other wood gift items; Digital prints, art prints and silkscreens; handcrafted ceramic tableware and pottery;

plus homemade honey, chocolate and baked goods. For the high-tech shopper, there’s robot gear and robot-themed t-shirts, while the more nostalgic can opt for locally designed retro-style baubles and accessories as well as vintage articles, including dolls, clothes, linens and brooches. To see some the selections available go to www.ridgewoodmarket.com/vendors/.

Featuring items by local designers and makers, Lockwood Shop (32-15 33rd St., Astoria) is a one-stop destination for holiday shoppers who want something different. In addition to their Astoria store, Lockwood has a branch at Queens Museum (New York City Building, Flushing Meadows Corona Park, www.queensmuseum.org), where you’ll find a great selection of giftable items for everyone on your list. Don’t miss the museum’s specially curated selections that reflect current installations, and their collection of World’s Fair goodies.

Back in Long Island City, you can check out the holiday shopping deals at the popular LIC Flea (5-25 46th Ave., Hunters Point, 718-224-5863). On Dec. 17 and 18, you can start celebrating early at their Spiked Mug Festival (www.spikedmugfest.com). Plus you browse the offerings at the accompanying holiday flea and food bazaar, where you will likely find plenty of artisanal fare.

Last year, You Are Here Studios participated in LIC Flea. But this holiday season, photographers Alex and Lisa will be selling their funky, Queens-centric and New York City images at a couple of Manhattan locations. The two business partners live in Astoria and said they grew their business from, and in Queens. If your holiday shopping expeditions take you to Manhattan, you can browse through works at Kiosk E3 at the Bryant Park Winter Village (through Jan 2), the kiosk on the main floor of the Oculus Building at World Trade Center (through Dec 31). Find out more at www.YouAreHereStudios.com

And finally, if you’re already feeling a bit overwhelmed and stressed out, and you need some inner peace, you might want to check out what Inner Peace (79-24 37th Ave.) in Jackson Heights has to offer. The shop has been a part of the community for 17 years and offers a Zen-like atmosphere. You’ll find candles and calming oils, Tibetan singing bowls and even crocheted baby clothing—all made by craftspeople in the area.

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