Sunday, 23 December 2012

Christmas shopping round-up: where I spent my money this year

Hello everyone, just a quick post today before all the Christmas celebrations begin!

It's been about five months since we upped sticks from the big smoke of London to settle back in leafy Leicester, and so far we are finding that the change in both location and pace is suiting us very well.  We have our own place which we have now been in for over three months, and while I still have a long list of things I want to do to make it truly 'ours' it is feeling more and more like home these days.  It's been a delight to catch up with friends and family that we didn't get to see as often as we would have liked when we lived in the big city, and while we dearly miss our friends in London we aren't feeling nostalgic about the noise, traffic or crowds!  Chris is getting on really well with his course at University, and I'm finding it much easier to focus on my illustration career without the stress of trying to juggle it with a part-time job.  Moving home has disrupted my productivity somewhat (since there is just SO much stuff to do!) but since we are now just about settled, I'm hopeful that I can produce a lot more work in 2013 to share with you.

When I began looking for Christmas presents at the beginning of this month, I had no idea what goods the local shops might offer.  I was a teenager when I last lived here, and I remember at that time feeling pretty underwhelmed by the shopping in Leicester - the locally owned shops seemed despondent, down-at-heel, struggling after years of being out-competed (on price, though perhaps not on service) by the big-brand stores; while the large chains themselves offered the same soulless, cloned merchandise that you can find on any anonymous UK high street.  Would I still find things as I remembered them, or had the situation changed?

Doubtless, things have been tough the last couple of years for retailers, and as in many other city centres across the country Leicester has more abandoned, empty shop-fronts than anyone would ideally like to see.  However, I am pleased to report that there are also clusters of little independent shops that are fighting back: offering the people of Leicester excellent quality in terms of goods, service, and even value for money.  Here is my gift-hunting hit list for Christmas 2012, cherry-picking the shops where I found my presents this year.  I hope you'll find it useful, either for next year's gifts or if you'll be joining the crowds in a mad dash for presents today and tomorrow!

Frog and Mouse Picture Company

Frog and Mouse offer original artworks, and a large selection of high quality prints.  They seem to get new work in fairly regularly, so if you don't see something you like the first time you visit I'd say it's worth visiting again later.  Obviously, there are some pieces that cost in the hundreds of pounds, but I was pleasantly surprised by the large selection of very reasonably priced prints, many under £100 and others under £50.

019 Sweater Shop
I came here looking for great quality, British-produced knitted goods, and I was not disappointed!  As the name would suggest, they specialise in sweaters but also sell hats, scarves and other items.  Their kid's range is really cute, too.  Just recently they have had 100% wool jumpers and leg warmers in stock, which make great gifts for people who like their clothes to be made with lovely, natural materials.

Just... the Fair Trade Shop
Just... the Fair Trade Shop stocks a wide range of beautiful items: home wares, toys, clothes, jewellery, food, confectionary, even eco-friendly cleaning supplies!  Sadly I found their clothing a little too expensive for my Christmas present budget this year, but lots of the other items were priced very reasonably and are of excellent quality.  My highlights this year include their pairs of patterned socks made from bamboo fibres, as well as lovely hand-sewn Christmas decorations embellished with sequins and beads.

2Clear by Set
Set and 2clear by Set specialise in unusually designed gifts and products.  There are lots of beautiful items, and I was especially impressed by the prices - I picked up some stocking fillers here, some of which only cost between £1.50 and £3 each.  And happily, low prices doesn't mean low quality in this case!  Very handy if you're shopping on a budget.

Dominoes Toys
 Nope, we're not talking pizza!  This is (I am informed) the largest independent toy store in the Midlands, with a huge selection spread over several floors.  They also offer model-making kits as well as arts and crafts supplies.  I came in hunting for a gift for my young nephew: not being a parent myself (and without much experience of toddlers) I had no idea of what might be suitable, but fortunately the helpful staff pointed me in the right direction.


In the summer I read a feature about Mosaic in the Leicester Mercury, and so when December rolled round I decided that it was high time for me to go check them out.  I've found a number of great gifts in this store, and the option to choose your own beads to create a personalised present has a lot of appeal.  If you aren't crafty yourself, you can pay to have one of the staff make the jewellery for you, and you can even bring in items for repair (a service I might make use of in the future!)

Sheehan's Musical Instruments

Sheehan's of Leicester
Sheehan's is a real Leicester establishment, and has been in the city for years.  I don't often have a reason to visit (since I'm not musically talented myself) but the staff are great: friendly, helpful and (since many of them are musicians themselves) very knowledgable about the instruments they offer.

So now that my Christmas shopping is complete, I can put my feet up and relax over the festive period!  Hope you've enjoyed this Christmas round-up of shops, I might make it a feature every year so if you think that's a good idea (or not!) do please let me know in the comments below.  I really appreciate your feedback.

Thanks for reading, see you again next time!

Emma xxx