101 Great Little Shops: Gifts

Enticing extras that are perfect to give or receive

By Sarah Rufca Nielsen March 16, 2015 Published in the March 2015 issue of Houstonia Magazine

Big Blue Whale

Image: Todd Spoth

Big Blue Whale

Any toy store can entertain kids. This one wows adults. Owner Vanessa Wodehouse stocks the shelves with vintage and retro toys that kids have loved for decades—stick pony, anyone?—alongside whatever else kids today are into. (Frozen and, um, Frozen, right?)

Blue Line Bike Lab

Brothers David and Fred Zapalac’s shop isn’t just one of the only places in town where you can buy Dutch-style commuter bikes from Linus and durable cycles by Surly—it’s also a hub of the Houston cycling community, organizing regular group rides and an annual MS 150 team, as well as recently raising money for a local cyclist seriously injured by a truck.

Blue Willow Bookshop

This shop wears its book-nerd badge with pride, shamelessly geeking out over everything from the latest young-adult releases to tasty new cookbooks. Between author visits and book clubs, there’s always something going on here.

Brazos Bookstore

Before Kickstarter, in 2006, Houston’s most pedigreed bookstore—once frequented by the likes of Edward Albee and Larry McMurtry—faced potential closure, but was saved by a group of locals who rallied and purchased the place collectively. Today, the shop continues to enrich the city with events for both local and internationally renowned authors.

Cactus Music

Instead of dying off like all music stores were supposed to, this store gave conventional wisdom the middle finger and became even more vital to the city by sponsoring outdoor concert series, upping its vinyl offerings, and doubling down on appearances from both talented locals (The Suffers, Moji) and big-deal indie artists like Chvrches, Ryan Bingham, and Steve Earle.

The Eye Gallery

What do people notice more, your handbag or your face? If you chose the latter, then a) we agree with you, and b) this is the place to go for fashion-forward frames from designer brands such as Chanel, Theo, Anne Et Valentin, and Salt.


It’s easy to get lost in this place—best described as a Japanese version of a dollar store—as you explore the Asian beauty products, imported edibles, and overly cute kitchen accessories, crafts, and office supplies.


Image: Todd Spoth

Frankel's Costume

In 1950, Morty Frankel started this legendary costume emporium as a magic shop. But it wasn't until customers started asking for clothes to wear during their magic performances that the business really took off. Now run by a third generation of Frankels, the cavernous store offers over 60,000 costumes to rent and countless more on the shelves, plus the largest inventory of magic goods, stage makeup, and clown supplies in the South. frankelcostume.com

Fundamentally Toys

You wouldn’t want your kids to live on a junk food diet, so why let them play with junk toys—the kind of flashing, whirring objects that entertain kids instead of stimulating their imaginations? For two decades, this store has stocked only toys that are both educational and seriously fun, and the knowledgeable staff is great at steering non-parents to the right gifts for kids of any age.

Hello Lucky

The charming little storefront that brought us “It’s OK to [heart] Houston” tees keeps it funky with vintage-sourced jewelry, quirky art, gauzy scarves, trinket bowls, and other wearable Texana, most of it made by designers working in Houston.

Hendley Market

Known for its eclectic selection of antiques—everything from medical instruments to nativity scenes—this store is a haven for seekers of unexpected and offbeat gifts, packed with books, paper goods, and jewelry, plus the fascinating and macabre assemblage work of Galveston artist Robert Dampier. Keep an eye out for a three-legged cat, which has been known to nap on the historic building's skylight.

Lavender & Mint

The lion’s share of owner Lily Lasuzzo’s business is custom letterpress printing for invitations, announcements, and the like. Her adorable slip of a shop, located in the former garage of the house that is now B2, has the most sophisticated selection of greeting cards in town.

Murder By The Book

With tomes like Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Gone Girl officially reaching pop-culture-phenomenon status, the mystery genre is definitely having a moment. Which may make this shop’s passionate, loyal customer base roll their eyes just a little, as they’ve been coming here since 1980.

Saint Cloud

Garrett Hunter’s iconoclastic design makes the perfect backdrop for owner Jessica Rodriguez and creative director Cecelia Marquez's stash of European handbags, artsy jewelry, Norwegian blankets, Texas-made pillows, and other design-forward home and fashion accessories, many of which can’t be found anywhere else in town.

Saint Cloud

Image: Todd Spoth

Smith’s Opticians

The idea that only geeks wear glasses has not been true in a long, long time, as evidenced by all the colorful, quirky, and downright cool frames here. Though it’s not much to see from the outside, venture in and you’ll find modern glasses by independent makers like Krewe du Optic, Dolabany, and Victory, plus an entire room of vintage frames—and a photobooth for checking yourself out while wearing them.


We would never have thought that Houston would be the site of Texas’s largest surf shop, but with over 400 brands on offer, this place has earned that claim to fame. Then again, we would never have thought to ride the mile-long waves coming off the tankers entering Galveston Bay and the Houston Ship Channel, so what do we know?

Space Montrose

Leila and Carlos Peraza have created a haven for creative types, filling their shop with quirky-cute, highly giftable goods from local makers. Grab a croissant from Common Bond next door, then stop in to browse the pottery, paper goods, original art, soaps, baby cuteness, Houston tees, and dizzying array of jewelry, with new artists added to the shelves constantly.

Stash Co.

Cheryl Schulke and her partner Paul Forde hand-craft their leather goods in a century-old former mattress factory in Sealy, then sell their elegant bags, journals, aprons, and small accessories at this shop on Kirby, which also offers jewelry, ponchos, and home goods from like-minded makers.

Texas Art Supply

It’s impossible to appreciate the convenience of a well-stocked, affordable, centrally located arts and crafts supply store until you’ve tried to gather materials in another city that isn’t as lucky, only to spend half a day hunting for supplies at multiple specialty stores and cursing the traffic, your Pinterest obsession, and the day you ever heard of gold leaf. Trust us. Going to Texas Art is way, way better.

The Tinderbox

If the locally made jewelry, paper goods, bath products, tees, and leather goods in this rustic-chic shop inspire you, you can always sign up for one of the crafting classes taught in a communal workspace inside the store, where you can learn to crochet,make perfume, or write calligraphy.

Vinal Edge

There was some hipster grumbling a couple years ago when Vinal Edge moved to the Heights from Greenspoint’s retail Siberia. But owner Chuck Roast, who’s been selling LPs since the ’80s, still has the best, most diverse, best-organized record collection in town. And if the new location means more competition for his rare LPs, well, you know, stop by more often. Problem solved.

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