Willy Wonka would approve. Decorated in oversized lollipops and gumdrops, this sugary wonderland has something for every sweet tooth. Melodie Maren opened The Candy Basket in January, and she lets her two boys—7 and 4 years old—help pick what's for sale. Smart move.
Pickle barrels brim with 46 flavors of saltwater taffy—more than anywhere else in the state. There are retro confections like Valomilk, wax lips and button candy. Next to a freezer full of paletas, an ice cream case promises 99-cent cones. And what kid could resist a make-your-own station for colorful Pixy Stix-type tubes? Marin even sells an arsenal of baskets and jars, so her customers can mix-and-match a candy-filled gift for the sweetheart on their list.
Elizabeth Anker grew up in a college town in Indiana, where there's a culture of independent bookstores and hungry readers. After moving to New Mexico and having two girls of her own, she couldn't find that the selection of mythology, whodunits and Steinbeck she craved at their age. "There's Amazon. But you have to know what you want," she says. "And you don't find kids' literature at the big box stores."
Alamosa Books, which Anker opened in April with her husband Sean, is designed to be immersive. Customers can browse and maybe sit down with a cup of coffee. "We're kind of the anti-Bed Bath & Beyond," she says, nodding toward that monolithic retailer a few parking spaces over.
Albuquerque's independent bookstores tend to burst at the seams with used works. Not Alamosa. These books are new and artfully arranged. Two wings of warm, airy retail space offer plenty of titles to hold the attention of adult readers. But a passion for children's and young adult literature takes up the lion's share of the shelves. There are 10,000 young adult books alone. "I look at something and think, I would have really loved to have this when my kid was 3," she says. That's why there's also a sizable collection of toys, puzzles and games meant to encourage imaginative play.
As for what Anker's reading these days—well, old habits die hard. "Tortilla Flat is probably my favorite book in the entire universe," she says.
ABQ's Playroom bills itself as an enrichment center for children. The space hosts decked-out kids' parties, unstructured play, and classes in "kindermusic," Spanish and LEGO robotics, among other things. The frazzled parent on your list would love a gift certificate. There's also a small, well-curated kids' boutique in the front with everything a budding princess requires. (More boys' stuff is on its way, too.) There’s a rack of tiny tutus for under 10 bucks, as well as a line of adorable aprons, hair accessories and plush owl dolls by a local designer. Themed gift baskets, priced between $15 and $30, are designed to get kids moving—they can explore the universe like Buzz Lightyear or be a superstar dancer, for example. Utilitarian items like nap rolls and water bottles are just as cute and affordable.
Push past the solid wooden door and you'll inhale the sweet, light scent of good incense snuffed out long ago. Once your eyes adjust to the cavernous interior, you'll see neat stacks of carpets—piled up to hip height without ever repeating a motif—stretching across the floor. This is what New Mexico's largest selection of Oriental rugs looks like. "These rugs go for generations," says Asher Mall, who helps his cousin run Tribal Arts. "... Unless the dogs chew it." Prices for these heirloom-quality pieces start at $140 and sail up to the financial heavens. But for shoppers in search of cheaper (but no less fastidiously hand-hewn) thrills, there are nubbly copper pots, Indian throw pillows, and tribal Pakistani baskets tightly woven from palm leaves and river grasses.