HOUSTON – Where we spend our money matters and when we buy local, our money does more good for our community than it does when we shop at big-box stores, so when you go shopping for surprises, whether they be for a birthday, holiday or major life milestone, consider supporting local entrepreneurs.
Sure, national chains offer the advantage of one-stop shopping and they make it easy to order items online, but if you hope to find something eccentric or unexpected, something truly special for your special someone, small businesses are your best bet. They simply care more about their customers and select with great consideration an inventory relevant to them.
I’m thinking of the zany gift shops that carry artwork by Houston-based artists who have a flair for making our hometown into masterpieces, the longstanding record stores that promote local musicians, the family-owned toy stores crammed with retro collectibles priced to sell, the gift shops at local museums, the stacks-style bookstores, where you can say, “My sister likes Virginia Woolf,” or “My husband’s into science fiction” and a discerning bookseller will start pulling out options for you. The kind of places that are a joy to browse and be at.
In an effort to highlight our community’s small businesses, we’ve assembled a list of 43 stellar shops selling items you’ll actually want to give . . . and get.
This list is by no means definitive and we’re grateful for recommendations. Drop them in the comment section and they’ll be considered for inclusion in an update to this article.
Dao Chloe Dao
Houston designer Chloe Dao catapulted into the national spotlight after winning “Project Runway” Season 2 in 2006. Her eponymous boutiques in Rice Village and MKT Heights sell her locally-made collections, as well as a selection of carefully curated merchandise.
Multiple locations, chloedao.com
Magpies & Peacocks
The nonprofit design house Magpies & Peacocks upcycles textiles diverted from landfills. Its mission is to disrupt the cycle of waste in the fashion industry and mitigate its enormous environmental and social impact. Magpies & Peacocks offers apparel, handbags, dog accessories, jewelry and more.
908 Live Oak Street, (832) 299-5609, magpiesandpeacocks.org
This rustic-chic menswear store in Houston’s Greater Heights area sells denim, leather accessories, knives, candles, pantry items and quirky gifts sourced from brands that make their products in the good ol’ US of A.
321 W 19th Street Suite B, (713) 861-6618, manready.com
Paris Texas Apparel Co.
Paris Texas Apparel Co. is based in Houston and was founded in 2012. From humble beginnings in the founder’s garage, the business now operates two retail locations and an e-commerce site which boast a collection of men’s gifts and apparel.
Multiple locations, paristexasco.com
Shudde Bros Hats
Shudde Bros. Hatters got its start in 1907 as the Shudde Southern Hat Company on Trinity Avenue in downtown Houston. Over the years, Shudde Bros. made a name for itself, outfitting the likes of John Wayne, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and James Henry “Red” Duke, Jr. President John F. Kennedy, President George H. W. Bush were also among the family’s notable clientele. Even Sam Houston was a Shudde Bros. customer, well posthumously at least. In 1936, the Shudde brothers restored Houston’s hat, which is now on display at his home in Huntsville. In 2007, after a century at its historic Houston location, Shudde Bros. shuttered its factory and moved into its current home at Brookwood Community, a residential program in Brookshire for adults with disabilities. With the move, came a new mission. Now, all net profits from the hat shop benefit Brookwood.
1502 FM 1489, (281) 375-2214, shudde.com
Shopping for someone who loves all-things designer? Try Tootsies. Since its inception in 1972, the luxe fashion emporium has offered the latest designs from the most-esteemed fashion houses. Here’s a list of some of the designers the shop carries. The store’s stylists can help you find the perfect gift for your designer guy or gal. The Houston store has private appointments, curbside pickup, complimentary valet parking, free parking, free gift wrapping and on-site alterations.
2601 Westheimer Road, (713) 629-9990, tootsies.com
Two Tequila Sisters
No, they’re not really sisters. Yes, they do like their tequila, particularly when it’s mixed with Topo Chico and splash of lime. Longtime friends and neighbors, Debbie Rank and Eryn Elliot are the dynamic duo behind the Bellaire-based business Two Tequila Sisters, an outfitter offering Insta-worthy, custom-made jeans jackets. To say these jackets are a tad less tame than the typical blue jean jacket is an understatement. Each and every one is tricked out to the nines with vibrant embroidery, sequins, patches, pins, fabric swatches, trim, and more, all arranged for maximum flare . . . and meaning. Many of the pieces Elliot and Rank create incorporate their customers’ most treasured items. Think swaths of wedding dresses, old ties, letterman patches and the like.
(713) 253-2055, twotequilasisters.com
Jim Koehn Art
Jim Koehn is a Houston-based artist with a flair for making our hometown into masterpiece paintings. His watercolor and acrylic works feature iconic Houston locales like Minute Maid Park, River Oaks Theatre, Numbers Nightclub and Cactus Music -- places that could have personal significance for your gift recipient. Did you get engaged there? Make a lasting memory? Bring a little bit of the713 into your space with one of these watercolor prints. Koehn also does house portraits, National Park signs and accepts commissions.
(713) 252-1659, jimkoehn.com
The MFA Shop
In addition to the postcards, coffee mugs, and T-shirts that are standard fare at museum shops everywhere, the MFA Shop stocks an array of eclectic items like handmade jewelry, Avant Garde kitchen wares, mobiles, and crochet kits.
5601 Main Street, (713) 639-7360, mfashop.mfah.org
Becker’s books in Houston’s Spring Branch East area, is a 3,500-square-foot wonderland of nooks, crannies and labyrinths stuffed with tens of thousands of titles. Its narrow, twisting aisles yield the most fantastic surprises -- there, you can ferret out that pulpy paperback or hardcover. You might find a striking edition of an old favorite or an intriguing title by an author you don’t even know.
7405 Westview Drive, (713) 957-8088, beckersbooks.com
Blue Willow Bookshop
Blue Willow Bookshop opened in 1996, replacing the beloved Musabelle’s Books after the retirement of its owner-founder, Musabelle Naut. Since then, Blue Willow Bookshop has served as an anchor for Houston’s literary community, just as Musabelle’s did for 23 years.
The bookstore is an inviting space, warm, comforting, a balm from the chaos that is life in Houston. Hundreds of author signatures and several quotes line the walls. There are rocking chairs and tables and a thoughtful collections of titles carefully curated by the Blue Willow’s kind, bookish staff.
14532 Memorial Drive, (281) 497-8675, bluewillowbookshop.com
If new, sleek books are what you seek, proceed to Brazos Bookstore at 2421 Bissonnet Street. It’s a sweet, tidy shop that stocks a carefully curated selection of contemporary and classic literature, poetry, art and architecture monographs, and the like. The shelves here are meticulously ordered and the books, thoughtfully displayed. The staff is soft-spoken, knowledgeable and quite discerning.
2421 Bissonnet Street, (713) 523-0701, brazosbookstore.com
Murder By The Book
If you’re shopping for someone who adores clues and diversions, make your way to Murder By The Book, the city’s oldest independent purveyor of mystery literature. Opened in 1980, the independent bookstore on Bissonnet Street near Kirby markets itself as “one of the nation’s oldest and largest mystery specialty bookstores.” Step inside, take a look around, and you’re inclined to believe them. There are books everywhere. The store stocks over 25,000 books -- new and used, hardbacks and paperbacks, first editions, collectibles, mystery magazines, and more.
2342 Bissonnet Street, (713) 524-8597, murderbooks.com
Quarter Price Books
Quarter Price Books, at Shepherd Drive near Lexington Street, stocks about 25,000 rare and vintage books. They fill the whole shop. They’re on shelves, in boxes, on tables, at the front desk; there are hardcovers and paperbacks; fiction, history and art.
3820 Shepherd Drive, (713) 520-5009.
This bookstore in Woodland Heights near Downtown Houston is a paradise for stack surfers who enjoy getting their hands dusty skimming through used books. Harboring over 100,000 books sorted into 84 sections, Kaboom is a floor-to-ceiling maze of organized chaos. And it rewards the treasure seekers who love the hunt for a good book as much as sitting down with one.
If you’re lucky, you might happen upon Oliver the bookstore cat. When he’s not busy surveying his empire, he enjoys snoozing in boxes and potted plants.
3116 Houston Ave #6736, (713) 869-7600, kaboombooks.com
Searching for some quality beans for the coffee lover in your life? Pick up a bag at Boomtown, a hard-core coffee shop serving its own small batch artisan roasts.
Multiple locations, boomtowncoffee.com
This small coffee shop on Washington Avenue and Hemphill Street has been beloved since it opened its doors in 2007. People line up just at the register just to buy the beans.
2201 Washington Ave, Houston, TX 77007, catalinacoffeeshop.com
Tenfold Coffee Company
A local coffee roastery with some seriously tasty beans.
101 Aurora St, Houston, TX 77008, tenfoldcoffee.com
Houston Wine Merchant
Sandwiched between Montrose and River Oaks, independently-owned retailer Houston Wine Merchant first opened its doors in 1984. The shop’s inventory is vast and includes hundreds of thoughtfully selected fine wines and spirits. Most of the inventory is listed on the website, which allows customers to shop online and request in-store pickup or delivery options.
2646 S. Shepherd Drive, (713) 524-3397, houstonwines.com
Cacao and Cardamom Chocolatier
Founded by Sugar Land native and chocolatier Annie Rupani in 2014, Cacao and Cardamom offers a vast array of gorgeous, hand-crafted chocolate treats in intriguing flavors like mango caramel, five spice praline, and cardamom rose. Build your own box or purchase a selection from the signature collection.
5000 Westheimer Rd Suite 602, (281) 501-3567, cacaoandcardamom.com
Surprise someone with macarons from Houston’s beloved bistro and bakery chain. Yes, the croissants, kugelhopf, and turtle brownies are exquisite, but the macarons are truly the showstoppers. They’re fragrant, delectable and come in flavors like tiramisu, strawberry, white chocolate lavender, and birthday cake. Oh, and they come in adorable boxes perfect for gifting.
Multiple locations, commonbondcafe.com
Know a homesick Texpat? Lift their spirits with a small token, or better yet, taste, of Texas. Houston’s Goode Company ships its beloved pies, breads, smoked meats and jerky nationally and in our estimation there’s hardly a better way to comfort Texas compatriots a long way away. Goode Company’s products are packaged and designed to remain fresh and withstand transport. With that said, the items are perishable and do have a limited shelf-life so keep that in mind when placing your order. Goode Company ships nationwide.
(713) 529‐1212, shop.goodecompany.com
This urban farm near downtown Houston grows affordable produce, trains and mentors new urban farmers and offers regular cooking and gardening classes for children and adults. Hope Farms proffers its goods, as well as wares from other local makers, at pop-up produce markets and online. Giftable items on offer include tea and coffee blends, raw honey, potpourri, spa products and seasonal produce baskets. Cooking classes and subscription memberships are also available for purchase.
10401 Scott Street, (713) 520-0443, hopefarmshtx.org
Three Brothers Bakery
This longstanding Jewish bakery -- now in its fifth generation of family ownership -- produces a full line of breads, pastries, cookies, specialty dessert cakes and pies, as well as custom cakes. The traditions of Three Brothers Bakery began in Chrzanow, Poland in 1825, and were preserved despite the family’s concentration camp imprisonment during the Holocaust. Their liberation and subsequent move to Houston brought Eastern European scratch baking traditions to the city.
Multiple locations, 3brothersbakery.com
🎁 Gift shops
British Isles, which opened in 1993 in Houston’s Rice Village, is quaint, kitsch and offers a multitude of charming wares from across the pond -- collectibles, casual and formal dinnerware, crystal, toiletries, home décor, toys, cards, and a massive array of imported groceries, including tea, biscuits, chocolate, marmalades and more, sure to please British expats and anglophiles alike.
2366 Rice Boulevard, (713) 522-6868, britishislesonline.com.
HMNS Museum Store
The expertly curated gift shop at the Houston Museum of Natural Science does not disappoint. Its products are so diverse, it’s a destination unto itself. Here, ancient fossils and precious gemstones are sold alongside roasted crickets, available in an assortment of flavors like orange creamsicle, mango habanero, and white cheddar, and plushies shaped like planets. Shoppers with exotic tastes will love the large selection of Tahitian pearl jewelry and expensive keepsake boxes carved from rare Desert Ironwood sourced from the Sonoran Desert, while goofballs like myself will take way too much pleasure in items like this pastasaurus pasta serving spoon.
5555 Hermann Park Drive, (713) 639-4629, museumstore.hmns.org
My Flaming Heart
Searching for something cute, quirky and a little off-beat? Try Judy Masliyah’s shop, which stocks an eclectic assortment of Mexican folk art, vintage cowboy boots, pin-up dresses (hand-made by Masliyah herself), antique curiosities and vintage trinkets.
3622 Main Street, (713) 533-1147, myflamingheart.com
More than 200 artists and makers -- the majority of whom are from Texas -- are featured at this Montrose gem nestled between Agora and Common Bond. Opened in 2012 by husband-wife duo Carlos and Leila Peraza, the shop proffers a quirky-cute assemblage of giftable goods including plushies, apparel, stationery, face masks, mugs, and art prints. New artists and offerings are added to the shelves constantly.
1706 Westheimer Road, (832) 649-5743, spacemontrose.com
💌 Greeting cards
No matter how heartfelt the words, it will always mean more to read them in a card than a text, email or social media post. Rather than browsing the card aisle of a pharmacy chain or big-box store, try Anvil Cards, a local greeting card shop on the corner of Bissonnet Street and Morningside Drive. Here, you’re sure to find something special for your special someone. Anvil carries hundreds of card designs, some original works and designs from local Houston artists, and others from some of the best independent card shops and letterpress card studios in the country.
2356 Bissonnet Street, (832) 433-7837, anvilcards.com
🏡 Home décor
AG Antiques on West 19th
At this longstanding shop in the Heights, you can snap up antique treasures -- collectibles, furniture, glassware, you name it. Representing more than 30 local vendors, the inventory changes constantly. Cousins Cynthia Anhalt and Debbie Greenbaum operate the shop in the same space where their grandfather opened a dry goods store 90 years ago.
313 W 19th Street, (713) 862-1009
Browse a sprawling selection of New England-style antiques, plus rare books, pottery, period lighting and vintage gardening items at this family-run shop in Historic Houston Heights.
803 Heights Boulevard, (713) 880-3353, augustantiques.com
Established in 1940, Bering’s offers quality hardware items for the home, upscale gifts including china, crystal, Big Green Egg Grills, Yeti Coolers, chocolates, scrapbooks, and stationery as well as items for the kitchen and yard.
Multiple locations, berings.com
Born out of a love of traditional hospitality, modern sophistication, elegant interiors and attention to detail, Biscuit carries its bespoke bedding line as well as a curated selection of home accessories and gifts. At Biscuit Kids, located across the street, you can find a collection of bedding, décor, and gifts for children.
1614 Westheimer Road, (713) 598-4821, biscuit-home.com
A specialty shop so large you’ll need a map to find you way around, Kuhl-Linscomb sells high-end designer goods and furniture in a five-building campus encompassing two city blocks near Kirby Drive and West Alabama Street. Founded in 1994 by wife-husband duo Pam and Dan Kuhl-Linscomb, the sprawling department store carries everything from children’s toys to skincare products to mid-century modern furnishings.
2418 W Alabama Street, (713) 526-6000, kuhl-linscomb.com
Many record searches begin and end at Cactus Music, Houston’s oldest independent music purveyor. The monster emporium carries popular records and obscure ones in just about every category and also stocks new and used CDs, cassette tapes, DVDs, and even the occasional 8-track.
2110 Portsmouth Street, (713) 526-9272, cactusmusictx.com.
It’s easy to while away an afternoon digging through crates in search of the perfect record at Vinal Edge. Opened by by local DJ and musician Chuck Roast in 1985, the Houston Heights shop is a venerable treasure trove for music enthusiasts, stocking rare, used and new vinyl albums and CDs, plus turntables and speakers.
239 W 19th Street, (832) 618-1129, vinaledge.com.
Texas Art Asylum
Going homemade this go-around? If you’re the crafty sort, swing by Texas Art Asylum to stock up on supplies. A place that describes itself as a “creative reuse” shop that’s “part craft store, part thrift store, part salvage yard and part antique store,” the 6,000-square-foot EaDo warehouse is sure to get your creative juices flowing. Here, expect to find an eclectic array of ephemera -- jars of rusty nails, license plates, stained glass, broken jewelry, limbless mannequins and so on.
1719 Live Oak Street, (713) 224-5220, texasartasylum.com
The Magick Cauldron
A longtime Houston fixture serving the city’s pagan set, The Magick Cauldron bills itself as “Houston’s premier Pagan religious supplier.” A purveyor of all things occult, The Magic Cauldron offers everything from unusual herbs, custom incense, candles (some skull-shaped), talismans and crystals to well, actual cauldrons, Ouija boards, wands, alter pentacles, Tarot Cards, rune sets and even a 19th-century vampire hunting kit bearing a hefty price tag of $7,500. But hey, it’s a small price to pay for the power to vanquish vampires, right? Not much for mysticism? The Magic Cauldron also carries jewelry, Renfest paraphernalia, Steampunk garb, armor and an array of medieval weaponry.
2424 Montrose Boulevard, (713) 523-0069, magickcauldron.com
Third Planet Sci-Fi Superstore
Housing hundreds of thousands of comic books and collectibles, the massive blue building off the Southwest Freeway near Kirby Drive is the oldest, largest independent comic book store in the state.
2718 Southwest Freeway, (713) 528-1067, third-planet.com
🧸 Toy stores
Big Blue Whale
Nostalgic favorites are sold here -- think stick horses, magic 8 balls, Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head, rubber chickens, Jack in the Box and the like.
237 W 19th Street, (832) 623-6990, shoplocaltoys.com.
If you grew up in the ‘80s or ‘90s, a trip to Misfit Toys will feel like a step back in time. Owners Paulina Gamino and Daniel Rivera stock their shops with vintage toys, memorabilia, and collectibles as well as modern toys. Expect to see tons of Star Wars figurines, Transformers, Power Rangers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Multiple locations, misfittoystx.com
Super Happy Incredible Toys
The store is a wonderland crammed with retro collectibles like G.I. Joes, Hot Wheels, Matchbox cars, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, many of them still in their original boxes.
740 W 20th Street, (832) 516-7176, facebook.com/SuperHappyIncredibleToys
Young, Wild and Friedman
This sensory play business was launched by Houston mom Julie Friedman in 2018. After her daughter Evie was diagnosed with a speech disorder called apraxia of speech and a doctor recommended sensory play, Julie began assembling sensory kits which included homemade scented dough, and items like gems and cookie cutters to inspire Evie’s creativity. Evie had an immediate positive response. With a standard kitchen mixer and some help from some friends, Julie started YWF. Today, YWF is a sensory play subscription kit with monthly themes. Every box has three scented play dough balls and a variety of textured objects for kids to create a scene and use their imaginations. She also outgrew her kitchen and operates in a 18,000-square-foot warehouse space where she employs more than 30 Houston women.
🛒 What would you add? This list is by no means comprehensive and we’re grateful for recommendations. What small businesses do you frequent? Where do you shop in person to get great gifts? Drop your recommendations and insights in the comment section below and they may be included in an update to this article.
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