Wary of the mall-and-chain route and weary of tedious online shopping?
    Where are the one-of-a-kind clothes, knick-knacks, jewelry, art, home accents and toys guaranteed to make mothers-in-law and sulky teens crack a smile, fashionistas swoon and kids shed their ear buds?
    Set the GPS to neighborhood "Main Streets," Hyde Park Square being the hotspot with more little shops per block "” and a wider selection "” than others, though Madeira runs a close second these days. It's the only one with an independently owned child-through-adult bookstore, The Bookshelf. Grandmas seeking to lure little ones away from videos have a friend here to be sure.
    Shopping these spots is a low-stress prescription for those seeking "something different" to wrap and ribbon. These shop owners know their stuff, offer service-and-a-smile and put the fun back into whittling down that gift list. The bonus? Most are close to coffee shops, restaurants, bakeries and spots to rest your weary wrists from all that swiping.
 
Gifts & Jewelry
sMari Designs in West Chester at Union Centre started with owner Marianne Dunham's handmade earrings, still in the spotlight of the gift shop. But it's interchangeable Kameleon jewelry that has customers keeping her number on speed dial. "Women are addicted to these. They want me to call them as soon as a new shipment comes in," she says. The sterling silver rings, bracelets, pendants, pins and earrings have "jewel pops" of Swarovski crystals, semi-precious stones, silver, lab opals and cubics that can be popped in and out to change the look or mood. She also carries the Onesole shoe line, made in the U.S based on the same principle "” one base or platform and switchable straps.

Other picks: Little Mahatma in the Gateway Quarter downtown; Indigenous and Ten Thousand Villages in O'Bryonville; Fig Leaf off Hyde Park Square; and Gilson's in Madeira.

 
Arts & Crafts
Indigenous, a gallery in O'Bryonville of handcrafted jewelry, pottery, sculpture, fiber, glass, tile, marble and metal art from artists in the surrounding area, especially Ohio. Treasures include everything from the fanciful metal cat and dog scupltures in Crayola colors by Sondra Gerber to intricate jewelry made of teensy watch parts, Gretchen Krauft's 10-foot lengths of colorful knitting that twist and loop to make scarves and wraps, and fairyland fiber sculptures by Kerin Houseberg of Bucyrus loaded with fanciful details and trim. It's art at an affordable price.

Other picks: Cincinnati Art Museum Gift Shop (great for wedding presents); MiCA 12/v in Gateway; Cockerill on Hyde Park Square; Pendleton Art Center downtown; Cozy Cottage in Bellevue; and Brazee Street Studios in Oakley.


Women's
Vintage Marketplace in Hyde Park manages to offer a little bit of everything on the cutting edge, from Big Buddha bags to Lizlou jewelry, scarves, soft felt hats, sweaters, shrugs and shoes from marketplaces abroad. Though the clothes are new, the feeling is vintage, that hard-to-perfect mixture of old and new against a charming backdrop of antique furniture, blackboards, weathered shutters, etc. It's as though the owners just returned from scouring European bazaars. Prices are decidedly un-Hyde Park, and the atmosphere is casually chic, nonchalant elegance.

Other picks: Arte' Nouvelle, Fetish, Alligator Purse, Soho in Hyde Park; Sara & Benjamin in Mariemont; Monkee's in Madeira; Ute Downtown and Ute Uptown in downtown Montgomery; Kismet and Diane Firsten in O'Bryonville; Cha Cha's in Mount Lookout; Hansa Guild, Pangaea and Mustard Seed in Ludlow; and Ottoman Imports in MainStrasse, Covington.

 
Toys
Air Swimmers, giant sharks and clown fish that lazily "swim" through the air, and the Gibbon Funline, a webbed strap best described as a tightrope/balance beam/trampoline combo strung between trees or across a pool, are the season picks from the two toy masters in town.
     Elliot Werner of Coolest Toys on Earth in Milford says he's "locked and loaded" for the season with the giant helium-filled Mylar balloon fish that glide eerily around with remote controlled swishing fins. Air Swimmers went viral online earlier this year (watch the video at www.x-zylo.com) from William Mark Corp. And Ted Gardner of Ted's Toys & Trains in Madeira is partial to the more down-to-earth Funline, a 75-foot long plaything (see it at www.gibbonslacklines.com) that tests kids' and adults' balancing skills just a few inches off the ground. Master this before running off to join the circus.
 
Other picks: King Arthur's in Oakley; The Museum Center's Store to Explore; The Boardwalk Hobby Shop on Mount Lookout Square.
 
 
Men's
You can't get more manly shopping than Delamer & Hopkins on Hyde Park Square. You can almost smell the piney woods, ocean shores, and fields and streams when you walk through the door and pass the rods-and-reels and cases of feathered lures. Even though there's a sprinkling of women's outdoor wear, including a row of Barbour Wellies gum boots that'll outshine any rainbow, men take center stage here "” the hiking, camping, fishing, hunting kind who hang out with bird dogs and know how to sizzle a trout on a camp stove. It's for the guy who leaves his ripped Levis at home and stuffs Columbia, Patagonia, Sperry, Filson, Fish Pond and Vineyard Vines gear in his pack. It's the only full-service fly shop around.
 
Other picks: Knickers XY, also on the Square; Blaine's Fine Men's Apparel in downtown Montgomery; Romualdo's in Madeira for custom tailoring and ready-to-wear.
 
 
Kids' Clothes
Silly Bean in Madeira is a snug little shop, but its racks are packed with whimsical clothes that'll have kids, including boys, shedding tiresome hoodies for European and U.S. designer picks shot with color and style. It's a no-brainer for grandmas without a budget, offering brands that include Hula Mula, Zaza Couture, Lemon Loves Lime and Hannah Banana.

Other picks: Castle House in Hyde Park; The Spotted Goose in Oakley; Busy Bee Boutique in Loveland; and Little Lords & Ladies in downtown Montgomery.


Home Accessories
A peek in the bright and happy windows of Pizazz Studio in Loveland tells you there's a treasure chest of giving inside, making it the top spot for gifts and accessories. But owner Jan Renaud's true talent is her diehard delight in finding the next best thing. Always at the top with the freshest seasonal décor, she's also the only retailer nearby to carry Sticks, the distinctive handcrafted and signed, painted furniture and accessories guaranteed to cheer up the sorriest Scrooge. Don't miss the interchangeable dinnerware by Nora Fleming "” elegant ivory serving dishes that change with the occasion by attaching switchable "minis" (pumpkins, hearts, Santa boots). Coton Colors takes it a step further with plaques, plates, cookie jars, bowls, vases and serving bowls that can be changed up to suit the occasion. So colorful. So clever.

Other picks: Tulips, the Nest, English Traditions in Hyde Park, Splendid Things in Bellevue, Three French Hens in Hyde Park and Fort Thomas, Bizarre Bazaar in Anderson Township, Anne Rice Ltd. and Camargo Trading in Madeira.

 
Lingerie
Men like to buy bra-and-panty sets for their ladies, says Britt Cruikshank, owner of LaSilhouette, the chic spot for all things sheer and romantic in Madeira, but odds are ladies love the gown-and-cover-ups trimmed with lace and feminine flourishes. Both floors of the European-design shop are dripping with sexy skivvies in a palette of pastels and classic black. Fit is the key here, and Cruikshank knows her cups-and-corset fitting as well as the best of the European design houses.

Other picks: Knickers on Hyde Park Square often beats the prices of the "Secrets" cataloguer; Sheer Necessities in the Reading bridal district; Gattle's in downtown Montgomery.