Shop local and shop early.

That’s the message from retailers for those fortunate enough to be seeking holiday gifts in a season gone haywire from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Buying locally has the obvious benefit of supporting the economy here at home at a time when stores are struggling. Several local retailers offer their gift suggestions below.

Shopping early isn’t just about convenience. The pandemic has disrupted wholesaler supply chains, pushed delivery services to their limit, and forced safety precautions that could mean long lines and limited access to stores.

“As you may have heard, retail stores are a mess this year,” Buckhead’s Kazoo Toys warns on its website. “… It’s important for holiday shoppers to be prepared. Don’t wait until the last minute to do your holiday shopping — you may find nothing but empty store shelves and shipping delays.”

Douglas Bowman, a professor of marketing at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, says he wouldn’t be surprised to see large malls doing timed-entry ticketing for shoppers as the holidays get closer. He noted that Walmart has set an industry standard by spreading the typical Black Friday over three dates in November. He also points out that many retailers aren’t saying yet what their plans are for December operations due to the uncertainties of supplies and pandemic precautions.

Douglas Bowman, professor of marketing at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School. (Special)

“Home for the holidays” will be the theme for shoppers in ways that have pros and cons for local businesses, Bowman said in an email.

“Those who shop in-person will visit fewer stores (something we have been seeing in grocery) and travel shorter distances for shopping (which should help small local retailers),” he said.

Market surveys predict a small uptick in holiday spending over last year, Bowman said. Households that kept their income intact through the pandemic may now have more spending power due to fewer expenses for commuting, vacations and work lunches. But the spending may still be on the low end.

Bowman cited a recent survey by the market research firm Morning Consult that showed 24% of consumers expect to spend less than $100 on holiday gifts — a 5-point increase from last year. Another 19% plan to spend over $500 — a 6-point decrease from last year.

The pandemic is hitting the brakes on some recent gift trends, like buying “experiences” such as spa visits and concert tickets, Bowman said. And it may create others, like people buying more gifts for themselves, “especially work-from-home items for those who are finally realizing this is lasting longer than expected.” Home holiday lighting and decorations should see a boost, too.

With those trends in mind, here are some gift suggestions from local retailers.

Home cooking

The Atlanta History Center’s museum shop remains open during the pandemic, with many gift items for sale. For holiday shopping, the museum recommended a book about home cooking and local flavor: “Nathalie Dupree’s Favorite Stories and Recipes,” by the renowned Southern cuisine chef who ran a restaurant in Social Circle, Ga.

“Nathalie Dupree’s Favorite Stories and Recipes” is available at the Atlanta History Center.

“Atlantans especially will love all the local history, people and places that weave its way through her stories that tell how Dupree helped put both Southern foodways and the Atlanta food scene on the map,” says Kate Whitman, the History Center’s vice president of author talks and community engagement.

The book sells for $30 at the museum shop within the Atlanta History Center at 130 West Paces Ferry Road, Buckhead. Info:

Kids’ stuff

One thing that a pandemic won’t change about holiday shopping: Kids still want toys. Kazoo Toys in Buckhead has plenty of recommendations for all ages groups and is offering one-person-at-a-time shopping for pandemic safety.

A recommendation for ages 8 and up is a gift that could keep on giving: a pottery wheel from Mindware ($84.99), which comes with everything kids need to make their own art objects from clay. For kids ages 3-5, a popular toy is the Toniebox ($99.99), a speaker that plays recorded stories without connecting to the internet — thus avoiding any unwanted surprises about adult content or hackers.

The Toniebox lets kids hear recorded stories without going online and is available from Kazoo Toys.

Kazoo Toys is in the Powers Ferry Square shopping center at 3718 Roswell Road, Buckhead. Info:


Spending time with nature is a great alternative to pandemic lockdowns. Buckhead’s Wild Birds Unlimited offers gifts that can bring wildlife a little closer to home.

For novice bird-watchers, the store has a “Flying Start Combo”for $14.97, which includes three types of bird food and a free feeder.

Wild Birds Unlimited is at 4279 Roswell Road, Buckhead. Info:

Custom shirts and masks

T-shirts and sweatshirts with customized designs have become popular gift items for sharing a child’s artwork or celebrating family unity. Big Frog Custom T-Shirts and More in Dunwoody is adding face masks to the collection as well.

“Masks are getting customized, and we’ve printed quite a few for the quarantine birthday parties or small gatherings,” says owner Tracey Carothers.

Prices vary by type of clothing and design. The store is offering a free printed mask with any customized sweatshirt.

Big Frog is located at 1400 Dunwoody Village Parkway. Info:

Home decor

Home redecoration and renovation have seen a boom as the pandemic has many people staring at their rooms all day. Kudzu and Company, a furnishings shop in Sandy Springs, has items that can serve as individual gifts or be assembled into decor for a room.

Gift items from Kudzu and Company can be assembled into home decor. (Special)

One set suggested by the store is a Thymes simmered-cider candle ($48), a box of Darling inscribed matches ($4), a silver picture frame ($41) and greenery in a decorative container ($167).

Kudzu and Company is located at 6450 Roswell Road in Sandy Springs. Info:

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.