Hey, I love Target just as much as the next girl. I could live at Marshall’s. HomeGoods and I are the best of frenemies.

But whenever I can, I like to buy from small, local businesses. Why? It’s a chance to connect with community and make an impact that’s actually visible. I could never, ever shop at Target again and I’m pretty sure they’d be okay. But small businesses rely almost entirely on the people that live in the surrounding community. They don’t have multi-million-dollar marketing budgets, or dozens of franchises.

Plus, if being an independent blogger has taught me one thing, it’s this: it’s hard being on your own. Building something from the ground up. Relying on just yourself or a small team to make things happen. So the least I can do is try to buy from them, especially during the holidays, many businesses’ “make or break” season.

I also had a mad case of insomnia last night, so I spent the dark and lonely hours brainstorming amazing places around Howard County whose products and services would provide ideal gifts for friends and loved ones:

nutella pizza at facci

nutella pizza at facci

Food and Drink Lovers

Secolari: This store has loads of olive oils and balsamic vinegars on hand to sample and then bottle up, as well as artisan dried pasta, honeys, tapenades, and other condiments. It would be insanely easy to make a gift basket with items from just this store.

The Perfect PourWay more than just a “liquor store,” this place has pretty much any alcoholic beverage you can think of. One of my favorite things about this store, though, is the Create Your Own Six-Pack. Just grab a cardboard holder, and you can custom design a six-pack of different varieties of brews for your favorite beer enthusiast. Or a twelve-pack. Or a case.

Restaurant gift certificates: Attach a gift card to AIDA Bistro & Wine Bar to a bottle of wine (or better yet, a growlier of one of AIDA’s wines on tap). Wrap a gift card to Victoria Gastro Pub in a British flag. Grab a bag of tortilla chips and your favorite salsa and wrap them up with a gift certificate to Xitomate. Get a huge pizza box and put a gift certificate to Facci inside it (I love the big box/tiny present fake-out).

CSA membership: Yes, the gift recipient will have to make a point of going to pick up their fresh produce throughout the season, but hey – it’ll be like grocery shopping for free. Totally worth the “work”, if you ask me. Check out AnnieRie Unplugged for a list of local CSAs you can “give” to your loved one.

Spa/Relaxation

Turf Valley: A fully-equipped golf resort and spa, right in our own backyard. Turf Valley Resort offers lots of spa package options, from a quick lunchtime treatment, to a fun girl’s night out, to a luxury-filled weekend experience.

Still Point: With the independent location in Clarksville and the mega-awesome joint effort with Columbia Association at Haven on the Lake, Still Point can offer your loved ones pretty much any relaxing/rejuvenating/exhilarating spa experience.

Experiences/Adventureshoward county parks

Clayground: This pottery studio/gallery/gift shop is great for someone who likes to get their hands dirty. There are frequently Groupons for a BYOB pottery class (Mr. E and I did one in February and LOVED it). They also offer glasswork classes, and pieces are for sale in the store downstairs.

Boozy Painting: Multiple locations around the area offer painting classes where you sip wine as you create your masterpiece. I’ve never done it, but have always wanted to. Definitely geared towards the ladies, if you ask me. Check Groupon for deals.

HoCo activities guide: Have you gotten your Howard County Activities Guide in the mail yet? No worries, you can find it online here. Anything you could possibly want to do (or give to a loved one to do) is in here: cooking classes, planetarium visits, hikes, field trips, sports leagues, arts and crafts classes, even retirement planning (for the more serious-minded gift recipient).

Autobahn Indoor Speedway: We did this as an office party once, and it was awesome! Two tracks allow for minimal waiting time. It smells like rubber and gasoline, the sound of engines revving and tires squealing is constantly in the air…it really gets your motor running.

Robinson Nature Center: How about an annual pass for the nature lover in your life? RNC is always offering classes and tours to accompany the gorgeous campus tucked away on Cedar Lane.

Terrapin Adventures: Zip lines, rope challenges, and giant swings, oh my! For the thrill-seeker, look no further than this outfit located in Savage Mill. They’ve expanded their offerings to include kayaking, river tubing, and bike trips.

historic ellicott city, md

mr e on main street

General Gifts

Sweet Elizabeth Jane: This idea could be expanded to include pretty much all of Main Street in Historic Ellicott City. Nothing in the area compares to the charm and history that is just oozing from that strip of historical pavement and stones. Sweet Elizabeth Jane is a really FUN store; kitchen goodies, home decor, clothing, knick knacks – you could spend hours just dreaming in there.

River Hill Garden Center: Mr. E worked as a manager at a garden center when I met him over a decade ago, so I have an appreciation for the lengths garden centers go to this time of year to literally set the scene. River Hill Garden Center does a great job transforming their space into a winter wonderland, complete with all kinds of fun gifts.