Not Your Typical Holiday Gift Guide

A roundup of holiday presents from Manhattan’s independent shops—plus seasonal bakery treats.

By Linda Dyett


Small Business Saturday has come and gone. But with Amazon soon entering right across the East River in Long Island City, let’s show our support for our city’s marvelous independent shops—starting now as the holidays kick off. Many of the items I recommend below are either designed and handmade with love by local artisans, or produced by small contracting studios. Absolutely nothing is available on Amazon or at the big-box stores.

Of course, everything I chose has a stylish, chic, offbeat, edgy or delectably homey edge, and many items have a New York-centric story to tell.

Four of the shops featured below are located on a single stretch of 9th Street in the East Village. Much of that block—unlike any other in this city—is home to designer-proprietors who take pride in wares that are produced locally—sometimes in-house or even on a sewing machine at the cash desk. It’s almost a throwback to an earlier shopping era.

The recipients of these gifts will very likely appreciate the care that went into shopping for them. So, readers, put on your walking shoes, get out your Metro card (or summon Via or Uber) for a shopping spree that will take you all around town.

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Dinosaur Hill puppets & marionettes ($40 to $100)

Delighting kids and their relatives since 1983, jam-packed Dinosaur Hill has a well-deserved reputation as a world-class toy store, children’s book store and clothing bazaar. Among the hundreds of beguiling non-Disney items at this beloved 9th Street destination store is a selection of handmade puppets and marionettes. A mama bear hand puppet carrying her baby in a tote bag strung around her neck, as well as a range of other mama-and-baby animal puppets, are handmade by Puppets by Noé (above). Noé was an early Dinosaur Hill employee who went on to a teaching career. On retiring, she promptly began making puppets in her East Village apartment that she sells to the store. Also in stock: intricately handcrafted marionettes—chef, beer server, doctor, princess, ogre, Pierrot—all in Old World attire (at top, photo by Manhattan Sideways). They’ll charm grownups as well as kids. The store’s indefatigable owner—Pamela Pier—imports them from the Czech Republic. Dinosaur Hill, 306 East 9th Street,

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Monika Knutsson’s gilded and silvered lace rings ($190 to $295)

Imagine a snippet of antique or vintage lace that’s shaped and dipped in liquid 24k gold, rose gold, silver or gunmetal. That’s the jewelry created by the Upper West Side fashion designer/artisan Monika Knutsson (previously profiled on our site: See Turning Antique Lace Into Silver and Gold) and in The New York TimesThe jewelry looks delicate, but is definitely sturdy. And while the lace may be traditional, Knutsson’s standout rings are often worn the contemporary way—in mismatched multiples on two or more fingers. On December 6 and 7, Knutsson will hold a holiday trunk show at her Upper West Side studio, featuring new gift items. To RSVP,
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Amy Routman’s watercolors and sketches ($750 and up)

An architect and designer living and working in Manhattan, Amy Routman turned to painting and drawing as a meaningful part of her everyday life and design process. Her delicate and impressionistic style conveys her fascination with how her subjects adorn themselves, letting colors and textures represent what she calls “their essence.” When Routman’s not painting fashion figures she admires, she fills commissions, typically painting striking-looking women such as the director of a Chelsea art gallery and a Canadian mystery writer.
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Elliot Mann earrings ($39) and pouches ($80)

Louise Paul is a Danish-born 9th Street designer known for her locally made easygoing but savvy styles. A previous NYCitywoman profile focused on her customizing services. (See Custom-Made Womenswear). Paul also designs unique hand-knotted, crocheted, macrame’d, hand-beaded and hand-fringed accessories in cotton and shimmery nylon. Included here, and great for holiday gift-giving, is a new line of playful, vividly colored dangly cotton yarn earrings, each pair packaged in its own a wicker case that’s tied with a pert bow.

There’s also a stash of one-of-a-kind, swing-from-the-wrist fantasy pouches adorned with piping and fringes (above). These handmade items are available in-store only. Hurry, they’re going quickly. Elliot Mann, 324 East 9th Street,
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D.L. Cerney retro woolens: women’s winter hats ($48 to $98)
and men’s vests ($250 to $350)

Next door to Elliot Mann, the multi-talented artist/artisan Linda St. John has a deep historic knowledge of fashion and clothing construction, which informs the designs at D.L. Cerney, her truly one-of-a-kind women’s and men’s clothing shop (Cerney is her married name). The look is decidedly Modernist late ’40s and ’50s. Even the fabrics, including vintage woolens, are authentic from that period. She’s been amassing them for decades from local wholesalers. For winter ’18, St. John created whimsical wool tartan, tweed and fleece hats, some pointy, some very pointy, some reversible to solid black, some with tassel tops, some in raffish color combinations—which are she put together at the sewing machine perched on the cash desk at her narrow little shop (above).

As for clothing, St. John (shown above right, photo by EV Grieve) does a brisk business in one-of-a-kind men’s vests, like a forest green wool crepe number with glass buttons and a leather buckle in back (above left). Her men’s- and womenswear can be custom-made. D.L. Cerney, 324 East 9th Street,
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Uko Morita Faceted Tea Pot Green ($195) and Mug ($32), at Sara Japanese Pottery

Born in Japan, Uko Morita had an early career as a Formula One race car driver. Then he moved to New York, somehow became Isamu Noguchi’s protégé, and switched to a safer livelihood as a sculptor and ceramic artist. After teaching pottery for several decades at SUNY Purchase, Morita settled in Westhampton, where he now works and sells his wares, which include an elegantly faceted yet rustic Taro Tea Pot Green with bamboo handle, and color-matching Mug Cups. Both are sold at Sara Japanese Pottery, a Hunter College-area destination for contemporary artisanal glassware, lacquerware, ceramic dinnerware and table linens from both Japan and the U.S. since 1989. Sara Japanese Pottery, 950 Lexington Ave.
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Meg Big Collar Shirt ($235) and Wrap Belt Bag ($145)

Meg Kinney, a third 9th Street shopkeeper/designer, started out in 1994 with one small store. She now has five New York City locations that sell her sought-after streamlined styles, holding an appeal for urban women of all ages. Meg’s pure cotton button-down Oxford Big Collar Shirt, in sky blue or white, is a savvy new take on a menswear classic, and will fit varying sizes and shapes. It’s shown with a Wrap Belt Bag in soft leather, black or brown—very stylish this season. Meg, 312 East 9th Street, 69 Eighth Ave. and 1038 Lexington Ave. in Manhattan; 54 N. 6th Street in Williamsburg and 358 Atlantic Ave. in Boerum Hill.
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Silver Moon Bakery holiday baked goods ($1.40 to $36)

For many years, Judith Norell, an Upper West Sider, was a concert harpsichordist with a passion for baking bread. Eighteen years ago, she gave up her music career, apprenticed at Amy’s Bread and studied pastry making with a master baker in Paris. Then she opened Silver Moon Bakery on Upper Broadway, not far from Columbia University. It’s been a major success ever since.

For the holidays, Norell and her industrious staff go all-out ecumenical. Hanukkah fare includes Star of David Cookies, Gelt Bags and Suvganiot, Israeli jelly donuts, baked with brioche dough and filled with raspberry preserves (above left). As for Christmas: chocolate- or chestnut-flavored Bûche de Noël; Dresdener Stollen; Sicilian Christmas bread and rolls, filled with nuts and candied fruits (above right); Chocolate Pecan Tart; Russian Nut Cookies and Gingerbread Man cookies. And don’t forget Epiphany, for Galette de Rois. Order by phone for large quantities. Silver Moon Bakery, 2740 Broadway, 212-866-4717,
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Linda Dyett’s articles on fashion, beauty, health, home design, and architecture have appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, Monocle, Afar, New York magazine, Allure, Travel & Leisure, and many other publications.

You may enjoy other NYCitywoman articles by Linda Dyett:

The Discreet Magic of Berets and Caps

New York Seniors and the Clutter Dilemma

Hair Style News: Isn’t it Time for an Update?

End-of-Winter Skin Soothers and Rechargers

The Latest in Makeup: Think Little or None

Tips from a Top NYC Hair Colorist

A Makeup Update for Mature Faces

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