Metro-East Living

Do your shopping now while you’ve still got choices at stores

There’s good news and bad news on the holiday shopping front. The good news is that you’ve still got about two weeks to do your gift-buying. The bad news? The stores are getting pretty picked over.

I made a mad dash Tuesday to see what retailers had in store for us sale-sniffers and I came away a bit surprised. Businesses like TJ Maxx and Marshall’s had some thin shelves and racks.

Back during the recession, it wasn’t unusual to see stores hedging their bets and purposely not over-buying for the Christmas season, which led to slim pickings then. But, for the past two years, there’s been an abundance of goods. Perhaps online purchases account for some retailers not stocking as much merchandise — after all, any of us can order a gift and have it shipped free to the store.

So, here’s what I found while I was out cruising stores:

St. Louis Cardinals fans can stock up at Gordman’s in Fairview Heights. It’s not just T-shirts, jerseys and pajama pants with the Cards logo. You’ll also find knitted scarves and stockings ($16.99), tasseled hats ($19.99) and even a big brawny plus Red Bird for $19.99.

I saw my first black Santa when I was in college, attending a holiday party at a black fraternity. Ever since then, I’ve always wondered what little kids of color thought when all they ever saw was a white Santa. TJ Maxx in Fairview Heights decided to balance the scales a bit this year with a substantial selection of black ceramic figurines for Christmas, from Santa in a variety of poses to adorable little choir girls in red and angels with wings. Prices range from $3.99 to $12.99.

Also at TJ Maxx: Spinz portable Bluetooth turntable with a speaker system and rechargeable battery for $39.99. Plays any size vinyl records.

If bringing a bottle of nice wine as a gift requires something more to dress it up, Marshall’s in Fairview Heights has faux fur wine bags for $6.99. Pick from several fur patterns, as well as $4.99 bottle “stole” with a glittery broach that wraps around the neck.

Not sure this is really a Christmas gift, but it could be a lifesaver: Lowe’s in Fairview Heights is now carrying Saver, the emergency breath system. The hand-held device flips open and is held against your nose and mouth. It filters toxic gases, preventing smoke inhalation for up to five minutes, giving you time to escape from a fire. A single device is pricy at $59.98. A pair is $96.97.

For the millennial in the family: Pick up a pair of copper-coated stainless steel wine glasses for $11.96 each, regularly $14.95, at Pier 1 Imports in Fairview Heights. They’ll look nice next to those Moscow mule mugs.

If you stop in to either Basket Case store (Belleville or Lebanon) and complete a wish list by Wednesday, you can pick a charm from a selection of Brighton Holiday Charms for free.

Peace by Piece in downtown Belleville wants you to know that the boutique not only has daily holiday specials, but is open from noon to 4 p.m. on Sundays through Dec. 18.

Young toy-buying expert offers tips

Kenzie Scott, 17, of Belleville, is the driving force behind Fire Truck O’Toys. Created in 2011, the area nonprofit collects and buys new toys for children who are in the hospital during the holidays. So far, 11,000 gifts have been delivered.

Kenzie, an ambassador for the Children’s Miracle Network, faced a similar Christmas when she was a little girl. Struck with a degenerative bone disease, Kenzie was miserable until a nurse brought her a little tea party set — and some much needed Christmas cheer.

On a recent weeknight, she and her friends, Brenna Hopper, 17, of Maryville, and Liz Schroader, 16, of Glen Carbon, got together to spend about $600 donated to the area nonprofit to buy toys.

With a lot of toy-buying experience under her belt, she has some tips for Christmas gifts for kids:

1. Look for deals: Search through all the local newspapers’ ad sections for upcoming sales and mark those dates on your calendar.

2. The internet is your friend: Sign up for email newsletters from your favorite stores, so you can receive sale alerts and coupons. Mobile apps like Groupon offer discounts throughout the year and can save you time and money this holiday season.

3. Know your audience: When buying for kids that are not your own, ask the parents what the child may be interested in. Go for the gift that the parents are least likely to buy, that way you eliminate duplicates.

4. The more outdoorsy the better: Try buying gifts that gets kids out of the house and out of their parents’ hair. Sports equipment, Hula-Hoops and a good old-fashion jump rope will keep kids busy for hours and give their parents time to grab a nap.

5. Hidden treasures: There are several major department stores in the area, but you can find great treasures at unconventional stores as well. Rural King, Five Below and Walgreens have affordable holiday gifts for kids of all ages and genders.

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Jaye Hodges,