Four stops for holiday shopping in Pittsburgh


David Donlick | Staff Photographer

Irish Design Center is located on S. Craig St. in Oakland.

By Sid Lingala, Staff Writer

Buying holiday presents for loved ones and friends can be a hassle that magnifies the stress of studying for finals. From the convenience of Maggie and Stella’s to the charitable angle of Few of a Kind, these four local gift shops in Pittsburgh make the gift-buying process easier.

Maggie and Stella’s

Passersby walking up Fifth Avenue toward the Cathedral of Learning might notice a glistening showcase of red and silver objects out of the corner of their eye.

This space, where students can be seen perusing knick knacks in between their classes, is Maggie and Stella’s Cards and Gifts. The gift shop was located on Oakland Avenue for 13 years before moving to Fifth Avenue in 2018. According to Meagan Sotirokos, the store’s manager, the gift shop is named for Margaret and Stella Stein, who in 1901 became the first two women who graduated from Pitt.

“We offer something for any price point and most occasions,” Sotirokos said in an email. “We are here to serve the University community including staff, faculty and students.”

The store offers a wide variety of products including cards, bath items, utensils and jewelry, Sotirokos said. Some of their best-selling products are bath bombs, sheet masks and tea. And there’s a section of the store devoted to holiday items like ornaments, mugs and household decorations.

Irish Design Center

With the smells of nearby Chinese noodles and French desserts, South Craig Street is a mini-melting pot. At the corner of South Craig and Winthrop sits a store resembling a well-decorated home, inviting customers to take comfort in its Irish products.

Irish Design Center offers more than presents and ornaments. It also provides a cultural experience through authentic Irish products, according to Maura Krushinski, the store’s manager.

“[Irish] people are doing amazing things and providing amazing pieces that they’re willing to send over and make available to us,” Krushinski said. “So for me it’s part of being able to provide a cultural, ethnic experience in the City where we essentially bring Ireland to Pittsburgh.”

Krushinski said the Irish culture is evident through the fine craftsmanship and deeply rooted symbolism in certain products, such as hanging artworks featuring the Trinity Knot and Triskele, historical Celtic symbols. In addition to symbolic jewelry, the store features a wide variety of products including barware, clothing, toys, greeting cards and even umbrellas, which Krushinski estimates 98 percent of come from Irish companies. Krushinski also said that she stocked Irish holiday goodies for this upcoming season.

“We have a lot of Christmas food. We have figgy pudding, lots of fruitcake, biscuits, cookies. We’ve got from Ireland those crackers where you pull up snaps and toys fly all over the place,” Krushinski said. “We’ve got lots of Irish beverages here of the non-alcoholic kind. We’ve got Guinness-infused chocolate. We’ve got whisky-infused chocolate.”

Krushinski said that the playful fiddle of Irish music and the clover smell that hit the customers as soon as they walk into the store contribute to the unique Irish shopping experience. She said she hoped to give shoppers the taste of Ireland by providing hot tea and christmas biscuits and a “snug” area.

“In every [Irish] pub there’s usually a room called a snug. It essentially is a space to go for reading or quiet conversation with a dram. Sometimes there’s a fireplace there,” Krushinski said. “So we’ve tried to create a little snug here in the shop.”

Kawaii Gifts

A specialty toy shop in Shadyside, Kawaii Gifts provides products that embody Kawaii culture. Kawaii culture — a nod to “kawaii,” the Japanese word for cute — takes products like toys or foods and gives them a “cute” aesthetic. The timid, childlike Hello Kitty is a popular example.

Vickie Pan, the owner of the store, said when the store first started in 2002, she decided to stock cute and fun products that were mostly from Japanese brands in order to introduce the Kawaii Culture to Pittsburgh.

“In Asia, ‘cute’ was everywhere,” Pan said. “I just thought we could use more in Pittsburgh and try to get as many cute items as possible into one space.”

Many toy lines sell kawaii-style toys, including plushies of figures of Pusheen the cat — a subject of cartoon strips and sticker sets on Facebook — and the Sumikko Gurashi set, which features a diverse group of cute characters with individual personalities. According to Pan, plush toys are the most popular item sold by Kawaii Gifts.

“What makes our products unique is that we have fun characters and really bright and cheerful colors from the designs,” Pan said. “The print quality is very nice and the merchandise are nicely made.”

She mentioned another popular product category at Kawaii Gifts — surprise toys. These toys involve ambiguous packaging where customers don’t know what they are getting and can receive a mystery item that is part of a whole collection. One surprise toy line popular at the store was a collection featuring characters from the show “Bob’s Burgers,” Pan said.

“The appeal comes from not knowing what you could get,” Pan said. “Sometimes people want to collect them all.”

According to Pan the holiday season is bringing in a rush of customers, mostly young adults and professionals, buying plushies and purses as gifts. But most customers are already familiar with cute culture.

“I would say a majority of the customers are into this cute culture when they come in,” Pan said. “But sometimes we also have customers that wander in and see things that they like.”

Few of a Kind

There are many stores in Pittsburgh that offer fine crafts and beautiful art. But as an Oakland store that sells unique artwork handmade by local Pittsburgh women to support a community outreach project, Few of a Kind is one of a kind.

Located on North Craig Street, Few of a Kind was started by Muslim women from the Muslim Women’s Association of Pittsburgh to support a shelter run by the association. All profits from the gift shop go to the shelter as a way of being self-sufficient and not having to rely completely on donations.

“Even though the shelter is run by Muslim women, it’s not exclusively for Muslims. It’s for any woman or family,” Sarah Martin, the executive director of the association, said. “The need to help families that are in distress and temporary housing is very obvious in our country and region and so we help meet that need.”

Established for 15 months, Few of a Kind features a gift shop filled with handmade products such as ceramics, jewelry and knitwear, as well as non-handmade products like personal care products provided by women and imported oils.

Martin said the handmade products are art made and donated to the shop by local international women.

“The women get what they need to make the jewelry like semi-precious stones and beads,” Martin said. “They don’t necessarily make the beads. But they construct the jewelry. They design them.”

Despite the store not having any holiday themed products, Martin said there are plenty of products that would make thoughtful gifts to loved ones.

“Perhaps they’d like a handmade mug or pictures from Nigeria that are made with butterfly wings,” Martin said. “We have a line of products called Burnt. It’s burnt artwork, certain kinds of calligraphy burned onto wood.”

Martin also added that the association is looking for volunteers to help with the store and the shelter and wants the college and local community to use the space offered in the store.

“It can be as big a commitment as as you like. It could be maybe an hour a day,” Martin said. “You might want to spend your lunch hour there perusing the books or you might want to come in and help barcode the inventory or just kind of hang out.”