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Making Lists, Checking Twice

Specialty stores offer gift givers and getters opportunitites to tailor what get wrapped for the holidays.

Looking at shelves of comics and trading cards, 10-year-old Colin Richardson knew exactly what he wanted for Christmas. “I want the Jinzo box,” he said, pointing to rows of Yu-Gi-Oh! game cards on a shelf at Time Line Collectables.

Like other stores heading into the holiday season, Time Line offers “gift lists” for its customers, The comic book and gaming store on Columbia Pike offers a specialized inventory, and customers know what they want. It poses a shopping conundrum for relatives of Time Line regulars. “Getting one issue of a weekly comic isn’t really a gift,” said 17-year-old Ian MacInnes, a store employee.

Bicycle devotees have the same concern as comics readers: they want to get the right gifts, said Chris Huler, manager at Revolution Cycles, in Arlington. “It’s like buying high-end stereo equipment: If you have an idea of what you want, it’s tough to get something else.”

Clerks and owners at other Arlington stores hear similar concerns from holiday shoppers, and try to make sure that Christmas or Chanukah gifts fit the gift givers wallet and the recipient’s desires.

<b>SO <a href="mailto:Timelinecollectables@msn.com">TIME LINE COLLECTABLES</a></b> offers gift lists, said co-owner Amber Moyer, “for husbands who come in — their wives can come in and get the back issues they want.” It was an idea born of personal experience. “I wanted to get a gift for my husband, and I was trying to ask him what he wanted without letting him know it was for a gift.”

It works for regular competitors at Saturday gaming competitions held at Time Line too. The players that show up range in age from their teens to their 40s, and come in to play Yu-Gi-Oh!, like Colin, or Magic: The Gathering, like Ian.

Regular players can put their preferences on a gift list, but the game cards offer better shopping opportunities for unitiated gift givers, said Moyer. “They can get a Magic fat pack, or a box.”

“Or a starter set,” said Ian. Yu-Gi-Oh! players want the tins of cards like Colin, said Moyer, so much so that the store has sold out of them. Tins cost $20, and individual card packs cost about $5 each.

Ian steers comic book gift givers to the rack of graphic novels at the front of the store, thicker books compiling several issues of a comic title. Especially popular, he said, have been Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” series, and any of the “Ultimate” titles from Marvel. Most range in price from $14-20.

He and Moyer also point to action figures and statues of comic-book heroes as good gift ideas. “Figures are always good,” said Ian. “Pretty much every major line has a figure for it.” Prices range from $45-200.

<b>AT <a href="http://www.revolutioncycles.com">REVOLUTION CYCLES</a></b> in Clarendon, Huler sees two types of holiday shoppers. “We get people buying for a family member or a friend, asking for ideas. Their first line is always, ‘I’m not a biker,’” said Huler. “Or else they come in and get two bikes.”

Like stereo equipment, bicycles can be as expensive as the buyer wants, so Revolution offers a range of all three types: road bikes, mountain bikes and hybrids. At the low end, a standard hybrid bike, useful on-road and on trails, can cost $240, said Revolution employee Eric Jowett. At the high end, the best bicycle frame can cost $3,600, with various customizable options adding more and more to the cost. Revolution offers fittings for all customers, and one-year service contracts on all bikes sold at the store.

“We get all types of buyers,” he said. “I sold one to a guy from the Latin meat market down the street, which he sent to his sister in El Salvador.”

For children too young for bicycles, Revolution is selling Kettcars, tricycles and carts made by German bicycle company Kettler, set up in the store’s front window. “It’s really well-designed stuff,” said Jowett. “Since we’ve had them in the window, kids are really mesmerized.” Tricycles sell for $120, and the largest Kettcar cart available is $260.

Whatever style of bike it is, Jowett said, it’s tradition for a child to get a bicycle at Christmas. “Getting that shiny bike under the tree: I remember that,” he said.

<b>CHRISTMAS TRADITION</b> used to mean a holiday album from major artists, but that’s not true anymore, said Richard Carlisle, owner of <a href="http://www.orpheusrecords.com">Orpheus Records</a>. “For reasons I have never grasped, we don’t sell Christmas records anymore.”

The store buys and sells used CDs, so Christmas shopping isn’t the mainstay at Orpheus that it is at other retailers. “We’re not in a position to feature anything, because we don’t know what we’ll get,” he said.

Instead, said Carlisle, much of his holiday traffic is made up of holiday shoppers taking a break from holiday shopping. “It’s people who want to treat themselves, or we might get someone who makes a list of 10-20 records they’re having trouble finding,” said Carlisle. “Some have lists so obscure, they might find none. Others, we have everything on it, and you have to choose three things to buy.”

Christmas isn’t a cash cow at Orpheus (“December’s not even our biggest month,” said Carlisle), and Christmas music isn’t the best seller during the month. There are CDs and vinyl LPs of Christmas music, but they don’t sell particularly well during the holiday season.

“We sell Christmas stuff better during the rest of the year,” said Carlisle.

<b>CHRISTMAS YEAR-ROUND</b> is the whole idea at Arlington Gift & Garden. Starting this week, Gift & Garden will open it’s Christmas room at the back of the store. Christmas is a specialty for owner Nora Gabaldon, who sold decorations at Arlington Hardware before opening Arlington Gift & Garden this past May. “This is our first Christmas,” she said, “but the Christmas shop will be permanent.”

It’s a welcome addition to the neighborhood, said Leslie Louden. “I live within walking distance, and it’s nice to see in the neighborhood,” she said. “There are a lot of chains, which is OK, but it’s nice to have this too.”

European glass ornaments will be this seasons specialty this season. “They’re done from antique molds, all hand blown and hand painted,” and they come in every shape imaginable, said Gabaldon. “Anything you can think of, they make it: a pickle with a face, vegetables, Santas and angels.” Ornament prices run $5-50.

The Christmas shop will also feature many types of light strings. “We do rice lights, big old-fashioned lights, and bubble lights, which have come back,” said Gabaldon. “There are lava bubble lights, glitter, confetti.” Light strings run $10-35, and light spheres, hanging balls of Christmas lights, cost about the same.

At the beginning of December, Gabaldon will start offering live holiday plants, chrysanthemums and poinsettias. “But no trees,” said Gabaldon. “We may have Norfolk Island pines, but trees are too much to handle in this small space.”

<b>DOWN THE BLOCK,</b> Lucy McCausland is also looking forward to her first holiday season at <a href="http://www.akaspot.com">a.k.a. Spot</a>, the dog-oriented store she opened on Wilson Boulevard last spring. “We’re selling a lot of coats and sweaters,” she said, holding a polka-dot dog coat. “We have funky-colored coats and Cashmere sweaters,” and some Burberry dog coats. Sweaters and coats run $28-200. “It’s an upscale area,” said McCausland. She’s also stocking dog bowls and beds, running $10-50.

Cats are not overlooked at a.k.a. Spot. Like the men’s section in a Liz Claiborne outlet, one corner of McCausland’s store is filled with cat bowls, cat collars and toys.

There are dog and cat treats too, though McCausland is quick to say they are not baked at a.k.a Spot. “We do have organic treats, since we’re next to Fresh Field’s,” she said. “But I’m not baking stuff here.”