2014 Holiday Gift Guide

The holiday season is certainly a joyous time but it can be stressful when it comes to finding a gift for the special people in your life. Here are some last-minute gift ideas that will hopefully inspire. You may even want to treat yourself.

Electronics and technology have become the marquee items in the world of consumer goods. As is generally the case with electronics, prices have tumbled rapidly. The 52″ high definition Sony Bravia television that you paid around $2,500 four years ago is now selling for a quarter of that price at most these days. High definition television has advanced to where the new industry standard is LG’s Ultra HD which gives four times the clarity resolution that the Sony Bravia did.       Laptops have come down in price but most quality ones will still run you at least $500. A less costly alternative is an Amazon Kindle Fire tablet that is easy to carry and extremely useful if you simply want Internet access away from home. Acer is giving Amazon competition this season with its $150 Iconic TAB 8 Tablet.

Last year Radio Shack poked fun at its dowdy image with a very creative Super Bowl commercial in which they gathered a bunch of Reagan era pop culture icons who literally destroyed the store supposedly because the ‘80s humorously wanted its store back. These days Radio Shack is clearly up-to-date as it sells both Chromecast and Roku that allow you to broadcast Internet streams on your television set.

Just as the old computer battle between Microsoft and Apple yielded those famous PC vs the Mac commercials, smartphones are divided between the Android operating system and the iPhone. Apple users prefer the latter while PC users will prefer the former. The Samsung Galaxy S4has become the most popular Android because of its slightly larger size that makes it easier to text and yet is still small enough to be easily carried in your pocket. You can even make handwritten notes to yourself and have them saved as Word documents with the Galaxy Note S4.       As a lot of us have learned, high tech instruments require constant recharging. Ebay is best known as a buy-and-sell auction site but it has expanded into other areas. This year it is selling portable charging devices for $25 at ebay.com/holidaycollective. Another good source for buying charging devices is iHome.com.

One of the time-honored traditions of the holiday season is mailing out greeting cards to friends and family. If you don’t have the time to buy cards, write messages in them, put on return address labels and stamps, and finally mail them out, an e-commerce company, postable.com will handle those chores for you.


Sports fans are a fairly easy group to please. Starter, New Era, Nike, Puma, and Reebok make plenty of apparel for fans of pro and college teams. Every pro sports team sells gear with their logos on the them. Our New York teams may not be the best on the fields of competition but when it comes to the world of retail shopping, the Jets, Giants Mets, Yankees Knicks and Nets, are champions in having retail presences both in their stadiums/arenas as well as at sites away from their athletic venues. Franklin Sports (franklinsports.com) sells almost any kind of athletic equipment and games for the family recreation room that you can possibly imagine.

Sports Illustrated has a pair of books that make for delightful presents, the “Sports Illustrated 2014 Almanac” which can quickly settle almost any bar bet and the coffee table-sized “Baseball’s Greatest” which looks at the sport’s most memorable games and players. When it comes to autographed athletics memorabilia no one has more merchandise than Steiner Sports.

Getting in better shape has long been the most popular new year’s resolution. Radio Shack’s Fitbit line of products tracks activity and calorie-burning wirelessly. Gyms such as the New York Sports Club, Equinox, Crunch, David Barton, and the New York Health & Racquet Club generally have good membership deals this time of year.

There is no shortage of quality running shoes to use on the treadmill as Altra, Brooks, Reebok, New Balance, Khombu, Zumba and Ryka (women only for Zumba and Ryka) all have comfortable footwear at a variety of price levels. If you like running outdoors in chilly weather but hate bulky outerwear, the PACT organic cotton hoodie will keep you comfortable

Everlast made a name for itself in the world of boxing equipment but it has expanded into the non-fisticuffs world as it manufactures reasonably priced warmup jackets, thermal t-shirts, and yoga pants that are sold exclusively at Sears. Zumba, Alala, and Athleta also compete in the world of yoga and exercise fashion.

With the beckoning of winter, anything that helps one stay warm will be greatly appreciated. Lands End, Volcom, Columbia Sportswear, and Sorel all offer a wide array of winter outerwear ranging from heavy coats to socks and underwear. Khombu is giving Timberland and Sorel competition in the snow boots market.

Speaking of winter, Snow Sugar (snowsugarshop.com) is a new company that makes head to toe ski wear for women who want to look stylish on the slopes.

Long Island City-based Steve Madden is renowned as a brand for women’s shoes but it now makes the kind of high end men’s dress shoes that you would expect from an Allen Edmonds or Johnston & Murphy but at a third of the price. Madden also makes stylish messenger bags and backpacks for men.

Clark’s (whose Desert Boot shoe was used by British soldiers fighting in North Africa during World War II), Jack Erwin and Beckett Simonen are other quality men’s shoe manufacturers who give terrific bang for the buck.

Spira, which first made its name in running shoes, and Crocs, which is still best known for its beach footwear, have expanded into casual men’s footwear.

Menswear never gets the same media attention that women’s fashions get. At Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, just about the only company that ever has men strutting down the runway is Nautica.

Don’t be fooled by the lack of buzz. There are numerous options for guys particularly when it comes to shirts. American Eagle and Geoffrey Beene are well-known manes for classics that never go out of style. Less known brands that make great shirts are Germany’s Haupt, and a new American company, Ace Rivington, all make shirts that look great for the office or for a date who also make fashionable pullover sweaters. Shirt and tie combos from the Esquire Collection and Nick Graham always make great gifts. Nick Graham (nickgraham.com) also donates a portion of their sales to Career Gear, a nonprofit that provides business attire for the financially disadvantaged.

If you like sleek European sports jackets, Carl Gross and Atelier, are good choices. You’ll feel as if you are Don Johnson’s Sonny Crockett character from “Miami Vice” or Richard Gere’s Julian Kaye from “American Gigolo” wearing them. And I mean that as a complient.

Back when they were known as dungarees, jeans were an inexpensive article clothing. Levi Strauss, the founder of denim, would be shocked to see the sticker price on the product that he created. Nonetheless there are bargains to be had. Denizen and Signature are both made by Strauss’s old company, Levi’s, but retail at around $25. Levi’s chief competitor, Lee, has an inexpensive men’s line of jeans and other clothes, Wrangler, while their Ryder brand offers great value to female consumers. Women who want high end denim clothing can look to DL 1961 or James Jeans amongst many others.

If you place value above snobbery, private clothing labels from department stores such as Sears’ Outdoor Life and Route 66, Kohl’s Craft & Barrow, Target’s Cherokee, and Macy’s Charter Club are great options. Kohl’s Marc Anthony line of menswear and Jennifer Lopez’s women’s apparel have been very successful for the Milwaukee-based retailer.

Grooming, whether it be staying clean shaven or neatly maintaining a mustache, beard, or even stylish stubble, requires work. Harrys.com offers terrific deals on top-notch manual razors and blades. Philips Norelco Tripleheader is the leader in the electric shaving field. I wish however that Norelco would bring back their corded shavers instead of making consumers keep them charged. We have enough electronic devices already taking up our outlets.

It’s hard to watch television without seeing commercials for Zales, Kay, and Jared so you know that the holiday season is crucial in the jewelry business. There is no shortage of websites that sell intriguing and inexpensive jewelry.

Long Island designer Nancy Rosen has created numerous necklaces, earrings and other costume baubles that have been used by cast members of the Bravo Network’s various “Real Housewives” series. In fact her company is called Housewives Jewelry (housewivesjewelry.com). Last year she has created a bracelet called the Vanderpump cuff in honor of Bravo’s new reality series about attractive and vapid Southern Californians. This year she has created a leather bracelet called “Wrap Me In Pearls” which is fitting with the baubles that are worn on wrists of any of the various Bravo divas.

You can find a plethora of inexpensive jewelry ideas as at annystern.com, cookielee.com, khalama.com, sandrabianchi.com, and suzsomersall.com

If you are serious about jewelry pieces that start in the four-figure range, Forevermark, is a brand favored by many celebrities.

Ash + Ames (ashandames.com) is a full-service jewelry company that offers accessories in all price points.

Watches are the most popular and functional forms of jewelry and they come in all price points. Long Island City-based Armitron, Dakota Watches, Bertucci Watches, Breil, Anne Klein, and the granddaddy of them all, Timex, all make timepieces that look a lot more expensive than their sales price. Forest Hills High School alum Lawrence Leyderman created a company, House of Horology (hohwatches.com), that sells watches that have the craftsmanship of expensive brands as Tag Heuer and Movado but at half of the price. HOH has a store in SoHo.

Metallic jewelry runs the risk of tarnishing over time. Colle is a mousse that keeps your valuables looking as if you just bought them. Log onto colleproducts.com.

Contrary to popular belief, sunglasses are just as necessary in the winter as in the summer, if not more so, because the sun’s rays come are at a lower angle and this makes driving particularly difficult in the late afternoon. Safilo’s Carrera division is renown for their classic aviator styles that make anyone look cool by wearing them. For those on a tighter budget, Polaroid, which is also now owned by Safilo, makes sunglasses with a huge choice of fashionable frames. If you want to look like an athlete who just signed a multi-million dollar contract, pick up a pair of Oakley wraparounds. Zeal Optics, ICU Eyewear, Flutter, Stays On, Extreme Glare, and See Saw Seen Eyewear also make affordable and stylish shades with prescription and non-prescription lenses.

Cosmetics are popular gift ideas for women looking for items for other women.

Sephora has surprisingly only been manufacturing bronzes, eye shadow, brushes, and lipsticks in the United States since 1998 (the company started in France in 1970) but it has quickly become known for its high quality. Well aware of consumer demand for the holiday season, Sephora is selling gift sets of its products through a line called the Sephora Collection.

May Kay Cosmetics is an iconic name in the beauty supplements business and it has just celebrated its golden anniversary.

An Australian company, Nvey Eco has a line of organic makeup. One of its biggest fans is Aussie actress and current New York resident Naomi Watts. Two more moderate priced companies, Wet N Wild and Essence, offer nail polishes and lipsticks in splashy colors aimed towards a younger consumer. For those who like the best in shampoos, try a gift set from Philip B. Botanicals or Black 15 in 1’s travel set.

Women outnumber men when it comes to purchases of skin care products but the difference in market share between the sexes is getting smaller every year as no one wants to look prematurely old, particularly in this still tight job market. Intelligent Skin Sense’s Cellaction Contour Gel, Shiseido’s Bio Performance Advanced Super Restoring Cream (how Shiseido fits that all on a label is beyond me!), Juice Beauty’s Ageless Radiance, Obagi’s Luxe Hydrate, and Wilma Schumann European Skin Care are popular age-fighting moisturizers/skin creams/serums. Clarins and Burt’s Bees were pioneers in creating skin products aimed at the burgeoning male market while Jack Black was one of the first companies to make moisturizers and scrubs just for guys. There are a pair of new competitors in the men’s grooming market; Menaji sells tubes of masque and face & body scrub for men while Columbia Skin Cares makes healing cream to smooth out various dermal wrinkles and cuts.

There are countless items that fall under the beauty/personal care umbrella. A social media website, pamapdour.com gives public critique to a lot of them. It’s as close to Consumer Reports for beauty industry as you can find.

Luggage, whether it be for a business trip, a long vacation, or a long weekend is very useful. Briggs & Riley’s Torq line is perfect for those big trips while Beckett Simonon’s Potenza is just right for the quick getaways. LXR & Company (lxrco.com) must have a relationship with Louis Vuitton because they sell the products of the famous French luggage and handbag company at discounted prices. Indiana’s Vera Bradley is known for its decorative and spacious light totes that can hold a lot of material. Betsy Johnson, the iconic ‘70s fashion designer, has now added travel bags to her product portfolio.

Elisabeth Weinstock makes top-of-the line handbags while Olivia & Joy does the same for wristlets and purses.

Targets’s Threshold line of home goods includes useful items as small jewelry boxes, towels, and dinnerware, and wine stoppers. Pottery Barn is also a good source for home decorations.

Sleep is very important and it gets tougher to do so as you get older. Castroconvertible.com, ethanallen.com, linenme.com, and properpillow.com are all good bedding resources.

You can’t think of the holidays without thinking about food. 1800Flowers, founded by Woodside native Jim McCann, and its chief rival, Teleflora, long expanded out of just floral products and these days sell as many food gift baskets as they do roses. Other companies who sell specialty food gift baskets are Hickory Farms, Stonewall Kitchen, and Harry & David’s.

Chocolate aficionados will love any products from Ghirardelli (their caramel squares are a weakness for me!), Godiva, Aloha Superfood, Long Island City based Gnosis, Francois Payard, Seattle Chocolates, It’ Sugar and Nocciolata. For sweet baked goods it’s hard to beat Maine’s Wicked Whoopie pies (wickedwhoopies.com).

The holiday season is certainly a popular time to imbibe.

For those who enjoy harder spirits, Johnny Walker Black Label and its more expensive sibling, Johnny Walker Blue Label, along with Highland Park Freya, Macallan, Glenfiddich, Grant’s Blended, Haig Club, The Fat Trout, and the Balvenie, are the top names in whisky and scotch. For those who like even harder alcohol, Bombay Sapphire East Gin, Smirnoff Vodka (which also comes in citrus flavors), Stolichnaya Vodka, Tequila Don Julio 1942, Milagro Tequila, Gran Patron Piedra Tequila, Ty Ku Sake, Old Smoky Moonshine, American Born Moonshine, G’vine Gin, Nolet’s Gin, Hendrick’s Gin, and Martini Gran Lusso Vermouth should all get the job done.

There are those who like their booze with a little less pure alcohol taste, cocktail mixers are crucial. Ripe Bar Juice uses cold-pressed fruits to give cocktails a fresher taste. Powell & Mahoney also make good chasers.

Aficionados of liqueurs and aperitifs will enjoy Bailey’s Old Irish Creme (which now comes in a variety of flavors), Bailey’s Chocolate Cherry Liquer, Godiva Liqueur, Unicum Liqueur, Amarula, and Cointreau are all solid choices.

It seems to be generally agreed upon that red wine has medicinal benefits. I have always loved Oregon Pinot Noir from such vintners as Benton-Lane and Willamette Valley. If you like California reds, then try Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon or Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon.

If you know someone who enjoys a good cigar with a glass of wine, then they’ll love a box of Macanados, Dunhills, Cohibas, Partagas, Gurkhas, Romeo & Juliets or Debonair Robustos.

Reference books were always my favorite holiday presents when I was growing up. I eagerly awaited the new World Almanac. Even in this Internet world there is something enjoyable about turning the pages to find facts quickly. Unlike most encyclopedia companies, the World Almanac continues to thrive and the 2015 edition has just hit bookstores. Other fun reference books are “Leonard Maltin’s 2015 Movie Guide” (Plume Books) and “The 2015 Guinness Book of World Records.” Those of us who were born between 1946 and 1964 will enjoy the AARP’s 200-page tribute to the 1950s and ‘60s with its 200-page book, “Boomers 101,” that nostalgically looks back at those transformative decades.

Discovering or rediscovering New York City can be a gift in its own right. CityPASS and New York Pass are competing companies that make booklets and cards that allow you to see a virtually limitless number of museums and other attractions for one low fixed price. The catch is that you have to do it in a number of consecutive days so you may want to use these passes when the weather warms up.

A great way to discover New York’s spectacular waterways is to take a dinner cruise on either World Yacht or Spirit Cruises. Both have their berths on the Hudson River. World Yacht is located near the end of 42nd Street while Spirit is a mile south at Chelsea Piers.

Theater is an integral part of our city. Audience Rewards, a promotional venture created by the Broadway theater owners, offers a free American Express-branded credit card that gives points good to redemption for shows on purchases similar to airline frequent flyer credit cards.

Yes, spa treatments are a form of pampering, but they also are good for one’s health as it’s a way of relieving stress by reducing muscle tension and therefore helping blood circulate better. Oasis Day Spa, Breathe Easy, Red Door Spa, and the Marilyn Monroe Spa all sell gift certificates.

If you are still need more retail reference info, you can always go to such old reliable websites as amazon.com, hsn.com, qvc.com and ideeli.com. Another good resource to utilize is the membership list at accessoriescouncil.org.

Happy holidays to all!

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