2020 is weird, and there’s no sense not acknowledging the differences between this and most other holiday seasons, if even just because it hasn’t really snowed here yet. But different and weird don’t have to mean less fun, and we’ve got some great ideas to make your holiday shopping a little bit better, even if you’re doing it from behind your screens instead of strolling crowded store aisles.
First off, we strongly encourage everyone to consider this “season of giving” a time to think about social responsibility, so this gift guide features some great ideas for giving that don’t require you to go in any stores. This means a subscription box pick (with a few runners up) and a Chicago Curbside selection–something that can be ready to be trotted out to your (hopefully) toasty cars and safely deposited in your trunk, or delivered to your home.
We chose to look at subscription boxes because they’re a unique idea for a unique year. If you hadn’t noticed lately, there’s a subscription box for just about every interest and individual, and it’s a great way to get interesting, unusual and hard to find things delivered straight to a loved one’s front door safely. Plus, they get something new from you once a month (or quarter.)
We chose Chicago Curbside because a lot of small businesses, restaurants and venues in Chicago are suffering right now. Keeping money in Chicago with the local businesses who’ve served us for years is important, and we wanted to highlight businesses who were looking out for their employees and customers by offering curbside service or delivery that mean you don’t have to venture inside.
There’s still a million ways to make the season bright, and we hope our guide gives you some great ideas!
Ok, to be honest, we’re getting the “Food” category out of the way first because simply put, there’s far too many things to pick here. If you have a loved one in your life who enjoys food in general, cooking or eating (or both!) there’s a million options that’ll more than satisfy.
For the person who loves to cook:
Subscription boxes that are basically meal delivery kits like Hello Fresh and Blue Apron get rave reviews all the time for high quality products and easy to read recipe cards, and are great for people who have to or want to cook more. But if you’re shopping for an established home chef something like Butcher Box or a CSA share–with locals like Angelic Organics being a great local choice–could be fantastic gifts, offering a selection of great proteins or produce for them to create with.
We also found a baking box called Whisk Takers that’s the best of both worlds, sending pre-measured ingredients and instructions to make fantastic baked goods on a monthly basis (and who hands down has the best name in the business.)
Did you know you can shop farmer’s markets in winter in Chicago this year? You can, and there’s curbside pickup and subscription box services.
Our pick here was Green City Market. You can get your favorite cook gift certificates for curbside pickup of their fantastic offerings, or you can sign them up for one of four curated boxes full of local goodies from places like Bennison’s, Nichols Farm or River Valley Ranch. Healthy, hyper-local, locally sourced food to cook with without leaving home is honestly the best case scenario.
For the person who loves to eat, but doesn’t want to fuss a lot in the kitchen:
We’ll cover candy and snacks later, but for a person who loves to eat but doesn’t want to fuss in the kitchen, we recommend, for both categories: ALL YOUR LOCAL CHICAGO RESTAURANTS.
Restaurants are one of the business types hardest hit by COVID and are in dire need of your patronage to continue to keep their doors open. Food is very individual and a great personal gift for that reason. Almost every restaurant sells gift certificates so someone can have a tasty meal on you, and as the pandemic continues more places come up with more options for giving their experience to you at home, from Rick Bayless’ farmstand pickups and forays into the suburbs for delivery to Alinea to go, you can go fancy or familial and guarantee someone gets something delicious while you’re helping your local economy directly.
For your family or friends who’ve moved away:
You might look at things like Vienna Beef, Portillo’s and <insert pizza place of your choice here> because many time honored Chicago institutions offer some sort of gift set to send people who’ve foolishly moved away from all this good grub. We’re partial to Vienna Beef’s Chicago Hot Dog Packs and Portillo’s Italian Beef to really cement your status as the good child/friend/partner.
For snack fiends:
Snack fiends are likely to be a little worse off during the pandemic, as it’s not as easy or advisable to run down to the corner Walgreens for some chips or candy, but luckily there’s lots of ways to get your fix delivered.
If you’re shopping for sweet tooths, consider Candy Club, which lets you choose from a bunch of different classics from gumdrops to caramel corn and nonpareils each month, but if your gift is for someone more into savory stuff, think about expanding your horizons some, because there are great snacks the world over. We like things like Universal Yums, a company that sends snacks from a featured country in every box, and includes fun things like playlists and trivia about the nation the loot comes from to make it an experience.
I mean, the city is actually chocolate scented in parts. It’s not like it’s hard to find great gifts on the candy front, is it? Let’s start with Vosges, self proclaimed “haut chocolat” that backs up its bougie image by being absolutely devilishly delicious–especially those amazing Exotic Truffles.
Or how about Amy’s Candy Bar, with amazing artisan chocolate, caramels, and those great marshmallows. All are giftable. Finally, Candyality is an option on GrubHub, which is something to keep in mind for treating local friends or yourself.
Meanwhile consider your savory snacker friends and family and think about carrying out some beautiful cheese and meats for a charcuterie gift from Beautiful Rind, who has a robust takeout menu with delicious “treat yourself” cheeses anyone who’s ever worked on some night cheese will be sure to love.
HOUSE AND HOME:
We’re all spending some more time at home lately (or at least, we hope so) and that means we’re more likely to notice the place needs a little sprucing up, or just a little something new to inject some life in the space. Winter makes that even more imperative. Help someone else make sure their surrounds spark joy by gifting them some great stuff for their home.
FabFitFun is one of the only boxes on our gift guide that’s quarterly, but each season brings some pampering to your giftee’s indoor life, whether it’s a cozy robe and a cloud soft blanket or a set of mugs to sip hot cocoa from. For a very reasonable price your giftee gets to add some brand new comfort to their home once a season, personalized to their tastes.
Another quarterly box that’s half beauty/lifestyle half home goods is the JourneeBox, another quarterly chance to treat yourself that features ethically made, sustainable luxury goods. Just a little accent here and there can really make a space feel inspired, and we think it’s worth checking out.
Otherwise if you’re looking for some greenery you can’t really murder easily consider Succulents Box, or if you know someone who loves taking photos but never hangs them, consider something like Frameology where they can upload their photos and finally get them nicely matted and framed. Give a gift card or frame a special photo and send it directly to them.
Home goods are pretty subjective so we do suggest doing a little research before you give, but there are definitely some great places to get gift certs or great pieces from in town, that offer curbside pickup.
We love Neighborly for its Chicago twist and simple, ethically sourced stuff.
And we’re forever loyal to CB2, which offers extended curbside pickup services for the holiday. Help someone restyle their domicile and do it by supporting local business? Again, pretty excellent for a Covid Christmas.
Beauty can be another great area to gift in because it’s such a nice treat during the winter months to have a relaxing bath, long shower or even a little face mask action.
Go practical with shave clubs–Dollar Shave Club or Billie are both great options, and having to remember to go grab a razor becomes a thing of the past–plus, the quality is way better than with drugstore versions, at least in our experience.
If you’re shopping for someone with a beauty addiction definitely consider Ipsy—Ipsy has several levels of subscription but all involve prestige cosmetics and beauty supplies, with the $25 dollar option netting you 5 full size products–and we’ve seen $65 dollar moisturizers included in that lineup. Plus, you can shop a variety of addons every month that your giftee can treat themselves with on top of what you’ve already given them.
There’s a lot of GREAT bath and beauty shops in Chicago, and you can carry out fragrant, ethical, luxurious products from many. Here’s a few ideas though.
If you’d love to support local business as well as woman-owned, black-owned businesses, Orland Park’s Luxurious Lathers has a huge array of bath and body delights that can both be ordered online and shipped or picked up curbside.
Mojo Spa is another great option in the area to pick up great beauty products from. They’re Chicago based, and sell a huge array of natural beauty products with cute packaging, great ingredients and a lot of gift giving appeal, and they offer curbside pickup for all of it as well.
Finally, Distinct Bath and Body, which is yet another reason you really don’t need to leave Chicago to get fantastic artisan soaps and skincare products, and happens to offer their own subscription box which endows the giftee with the ability to get access to the Soap of the Month first and is packed with other great bath and body goodies.
Clothes are something that’s highly personal, sure, but that’s actually why they can be great gifts, too, if you know what you’re doing.
If you don’t, you can still help someone stay warm by gifting them subscription boxes for clothes that aren’t as hard to shop for–and are fun!
While it might seem weird to you to talking about underwear, MeUndies is much more than comfy, silly patterned underwear, and includes extra soft robes, pjs and lounge pants. Even better, there’s a wide array of size choices, and your giftee can choose if they’d like regular colored skivvies or ones with unicorns or ninja raccoons on them, and pick whatever cut makes them feel most comfy.
Let’s also talk about how at least in this area, cold floors ruin lives. If your feet are freezing it’s hard to stay relaxed and ready for your day. Socks have come a long way, and sub boxes like Bombas are helping the homeless, as a bonus, as when you buy Bombas they also donate a pair to homeless shelters (since socks are one of the most requested items in shelters). Keep your feet warm and help someone else have that same basic comfort? It’s not a subscription box, but we made an exception because there’s great gift boxes and it’s a great idea.
You might already know what we’re gonna say here. There’s a ton of amazing boutiques in Chicago that serve up unique fashion for literally everyone, and there’s more reason now than ever to give gift cards to those places, since they too are struggling with a serious drought in shoppers since COVID.
BUT if you want an idea that’s a little more specific–why not buy merch from a museum, bar, or restaurant you love to go to with someone you’re shopping for? Maybe you can’t go see SUE at The Field Museum right now and you aren’t able to shoot the breeze at Revolution’s brewpub the same way you could before, but you can send them some sweet merch to remind them of some of your best times there.
This is a category unto its own for good reason, mostly because now more than ever our preferred beverages are sustaining us through these dark times.
As subscription boxes go, you can’t go wrong here. Coffee lovers will love a box that boasts a variety of new coffees from around the world every month like Atlas Coffee Club, those shopping for tea lovers can hit up a service like Sipsby, and those who enjoy beer and wine can find lovely things like Winc and First Sip Brew Box, a different take on a beer sub box that doesn’t ship beer, but which lets you choose your favorite craft beer and supplies a bunch of treats including brewery apparel and snacks to go with your beer of choice.
There’s hardly a way to accurately cover all the amazing coffee, tea and beer you can get here in Chicago but let’s start by saying that Intelligentsia has a wide range of cool merch on top of the ability to set up a subscription that’ll send you lifegiving coffeebeans at your preferred intervals. There’s also an array of amazing seasonals and gift sets for the person who can’t ever be without their coffee.
We’d be remiss not to mention The Worm Hole and Dark Matter here too, since they all serve up amazing coffee and merch that you can still get your hands on (Dark Matter has a subscription service too!) in time to gift for the holidays as well. If you’re scouring Chicago for a tea lover’s gifts, start with Argo’s wide selection of tea and drinks, but places like Spirit Tea and Tiesta have a great assortment of tea gifts for the holiday, too.
If you’re looking for beer, Revolution Brewing is the hero with all their amazing brews available curbside (and most places you can get groceries at, for that matter) with a great shop and gift cards, as well as places like Half Acre and Off Color Brewing, all of whom have fantastic fun merch and curbside brew to get you through.
For wine lovers, consider picking up something from LUSH Wine and Spirits, who also offers curbside pickup for their goods, including good eats.
As a kid there was nothing I liked more than getting mail, and that’s something you can give your nieces, nephews, or your own kids.
Subscription boxes for kids these days are curated and well thought out, and we recommend things like KiwiCo, which gives kids new STEAM related projects every month, as well as Lovevery, for the little ones, which focuses on developmentally appropriate play with new toys shipped out every month, and finally KidStirs, for the child angling to be on the next Chopped Jr.
There’s plenty of time to get great stuff for the kids you’re hoping to spoil this year if you shop local.
Play! in Logan Square has a carefully curated selection of books and toys and will even wrap up your choice and bring it to your car. You can also get curbside toys, clothes and educational items from Timeless Toys. Or, one of our personal favorites that might be great if you’re trying to share a little of your own childhood with your kids or the kids in your life, Toy de Jour has a great selection of nostalgic goodies at great prices, and though their storefront is closed you can still get gift certificates and get some of their goodies shipped in time for Christmas.
The entertainment scene sure looks different in 2020, but that’s not all bad. Now you don’t have to worry about abysmal weather or traffic when you’re trying to see a show, at least! In all seriousness, performing artists are also in need of our support, and though the stage lights are down and bars and movie theaters are closed, there’s ways you can get your fill of entertainment without ever leaving your house.
So, this one’s a no-brainer but give someone you love a little more to binge watch this year with a gift to a subscription streaming service. HBO Max and Disney+ fall solidly in the “Treat yourself” column as premium services that offer a ton of big ticket blockbusters but you can also treat the more serious cinephile to something like a Criterion subscription.
For those on your list who love video games and tabletop games, our Games & Tech section has wrapped up an entire gift guide full of goodies you can count on to make them smile. Check it out here.
If you’re missing the Chicago scene, know that the performing artists, be they musicians, actors, dancers or artists, are missing you too, and trying to make ends meet during a global pandemic that’s keeping stages dark.
Covid has forced everyone to rethink things and take new routes, and that means streaming services for everything from Chicago’s theater scene to music and performances from The Hideout and The Empty Bottle, and local theaters we love to see interesting films at launching their own streaming services. The entertainment/hospitality sector in Chicago has been hit hard so consider these gifts not only something great for the people you love, but a great way to help hard hit places here in Chicago stay on their feet.
Theatergoers who are feeling the lack of live performances can check out Theater in Chicago for an exhaustive list of virtual screenings but for a short roundup, for holiday theater lovers, stream It’s a Wonderful Life from the American Blues Theater, catch a streaming show from Second City, or reconnect with the Lyric Opera for Lawrence Brownlee & Friends: The Next Chapter, which will run through January. Tickets to these virtual events can be the start of a virtual viewing party with friends and family that’ll keep you connected even if you can’t be in the same room (or in the theater seats, as it were.)
You can also get a little theater pizzazz in your wardrobe with Rediscover Handbags’ line of theater themed purses, masks and totes.
For your film loving family and friends who are itchy for some good movie nights, think about signing them up for something like the Music Box’s own streaming service, Music Box Direct for the kind of carefully curated films you’re used to loving in person.
Don’t stop there though, as the Gene Siskel Film Center also has a great option–Film Center From Your Sofa, which is a series of Siskel Center hosted films to screen at home that’s got added interactivity–you can join the Facebook events in advance to talk film or tune in to Screen to Screen discussions for interactive virtual Q&As with filmmakers, cast and crew.
For those missing live concerts, check in with some of your favorite local venues. Places like The Hideout and The Empty Bottle are taking to the internet, with shows that you can set up date nights with significant others or hangouts with friends for (just be sure to tip the performers and venue, if possible!) Or grab some eats or merch from Schubas and Lincoln Hall. There’s too many venues to name in this roundup but do312 has a pretty exhaustive list of great options to shop your favorite music venues for gifts and to support them, so check that out, too.
Well, that’s a wrap for us on this Socially Distanced Chicago Gift Guide, and we hope that it’ll help you wrap up the last of your holiday shopping. The great thing about things like subscription boxes and curbside pickup is that you can be a last minute shopper and still procure thoughtful gifts for the people you love–even in a pandemic. We hope that your holiday goes well and that you enjoy it safely and happily. Thank you for reading!