Noe Valley Voice December-January 1997-98

Cheap Gifts! 10 Under $10 In Downtown Noe Valley

By Dodie Hamblen

We know you're not Scrooge, but there is a limit to how much you will spend on holiday gifts. So we at the Voice decided to scout out 10 unique -- or just plain wonderful -- presents in Noe Valley, all under $10. Here's what we found:

1. A Puffy Projectile. There were so many pairs of stuffed animals to choose from at The Ark toy shop at 3845 24th St. (near Vicksburg) that we threw up our hands and caught the Vortex Jr., a flying foam football with fins for $7.95. Says store owner Pam Byars, "It has great play value, and it goes a long way. It should be very popular at Douglass Park." The Ark is also brimming with stocking stuffers that cost only a dollar or two (such as the little furry mice and porcupines one Voice editor found irresistible).

2. New Age Bubbleology. The Bubbleology Aromatherapy Bubbles over at Just for Fun, 3982 24th St., promise to be the mood-altering substance of the season. The big bottle of bubbles, selling for $9.95, comes with a wand just like kids' bubbles. Blow them around, and wait for the attitude adjustment. There's a scent for whatever atmosphere you want to create: Bedtime Bubbles, Happy Bubbles, Executive Bubbles, Save the World Bubbles, and Feel Better Bubbles. "These are great," says Just for Fun's Penelope Flury. "We tried them out here in the store, and everybody loved them."

3. Lessons in Smooching. If you're having trouble finding something for that special or want-to-be-special man in your life, a guide to The Art of Kissing might be just the thing. A steal at $3, this paperback reproduction of a 1936 classic is full of suggestions to men for setting the mood, and making the move. (The guy always takes the lead, right?) It's sold at 17 Reasons, the artsy gift shop across from Bell Market (3961 24th St.).

4. Team Trading Cards. Sports fans of all ages and genders will want to own the premier edition of the WNBA's Women's Basketball Team Cards, packaged in a collectable can for $3.25. They can be found at Noe Valley Sports Cards, the neighborhood's outlet for professional sports trading cards (and vintage jewelry at Alley Cat Jewels) at the corner of Church and Duncan streets. "Cards for Jerry Rice, Ken Griffey Jr., and Michael Jordan, and packets of 49er team sets are usually our biggest sellers," says shop owner Herb Lilly, "but this is the first year they've made these women's basketball cards, so they are very popular."

5. Juego de Loteria. Is there a game freak or someone planning a trip to Mexico on your list? Adults and kids alike will be delighted with Mexican Bingo, Juego de Loteria, sold at La Sirena Botanica, 1509 Church St. at 27th Street. With its brightly colored cards depicting La Luna, El Corazon, La Rosa, and La Sirena (the mermaid inspiration for the store's name), "Mexican Bingo is a great way to learn Spanish," says store owner Petra Martinez. At $3.75 for the small set and $4.75 for the large, this game is one of the best deals around.

6. A Table Setting for Your Best Friend. No dog likes to leave a messy dinner plate, so the $6.95 Pet Placemat at Panetti's, 3927 24th St., is a thoughtful gift for both pets and owners. This oval-shaped mat, made of recycled rubber, also has "Good Dog" and other admonitions printed on it in bright red and black, for easy mealtime reading. Marjory Panetti says cat owners need not feel deprived -- the "Meow" mats are already on order.

7. Alien Nation. Fans of the X-Files will be transfixed by the Bendy Alien, a five-inch figure from outer space whose eyes glow in the dark and whose body bends for easy entry into our homes, our cars, our purses, everywhere.... The Alien sells for $2.95 at Star Magic, 4028 24th St. near Castro. Assistant store manager Corinn Argo says Bendy has universal appeal. "We sell a lot of these. They're fun and inexpensive."

8. Art Frames in Paper. Paper Foldframes are beautiful lightweight photo frames made of recycled paper, in rich shades of gold, blue, silvery-black, or red. They can be assembled in a few quick folds, and are found at Out of Hand, 1303 Castro St. near 24th. A variety of sizes are available, and prices range from $6 to $9.50. "[These are] great for the holidays because they can be easily mailed. They also make a nice teacher's present," says store owner Karla Clement.

9. Lotions to Order. How about a bottle of custom-designed body lotion? Common Scents, at 3920 24th St. near Sanchez, lets you choose from an array of 50 scented oils to create a truly personal gift. Scents include amber, lavender, ylang-ylang, sage, orange, and vanilla, and can be added to unscented products in any combination you choose. "Everybody wants to mix their own scent," says store owner Linda Ramey. But if you can't decide, the staff is happy to make suggestions (lavender/sage and vanilla/ amber are among the favorites). Shower gel, bubble bath, and massage oil are also available for custom-scenting. Prices are $5 for an 8-ounce bottle, or $9 for a 16-ounce bottle.

10. Your Basic Love Beads. Beaded daisy-chain chokers and necklaces, like those worn in the '60s, make a groovy gift for people of all ages. They come in an abundance of colors -- blue, red, yellow, black, white, and green -- and cost $3 to $6.50. You can find them at Global Exchange, the fair trade crafts store at 3900 24th St. near the corner of Sanchez. "They're made by the Otomi Indians in a small village in Mexico," says store manager Joan Goldberg. "They're very big right now. Everybody loves them."