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Holiday Shopping the ‘Small-town’ Way

Local businesses offer personalized service, distinctive and unique gifts

So, you ask, what makes shopping at Vienna’s small businesses a pleasant, rewarding experience. For starters, merchandise and services are likely to be unique and distinctive, and customer service is typically personal and enthusiastic. You can go to the mall and find the same brands, harried employees and temporary staffing at one store or another. Or … you can shop locally where the merchants are your neighbors, your fellow club or church members, and community supporters. From one-of-a-kind hand-knit hats to wood birdhouses and bat condominiums, Vienna-logo gifts, and pumpkin pie liqueur, there’s something for everyone in Vienna’s hometown shops.

And if you’re looking for special promotions, note Saturday, Nov. 30 on your calendar. That’s Vienna Business Saturday, organized by Vienna's Town/Business Liaison Committee and the Vienna Business Association. Participating businesses throughout the town will offer special deals or incentives.

But, that’s not the best part about shopping Vienna: the best part is the knowledgeable and friendly customer service you’ll get when you’re in the store. And that’s priceless.

*Step into the Freeman Store and you’ve stepped into a nostalgic Norman Rockwell painting. Beyond the reproductions of vintage kids’ toys, beyond the planked floors and potbelly stove, beyond the Civil War books and themes, there is a vast but warmly-created array of Vienna-logo and Virginia-made merchandise.

Shopkeeper Alla Fiore takes visitors around the shop, identifying objects. Ask her about the squirrel who lives outside the side door or the cardinal who makes his home out back.

The Vienna-logo pottery is made in Pennsylvania, not overseas, and has the look of Williamsburg pottery. Every year, collectors come in to the Freeman Store to add to their Rachael Peden collection of hand-painted wood ornaments depicting a Vienna scene. This year’s ornament, at $19.95, is a Vienna Santa Claus --- in spectacles, sunglasses or perfect vision.

The holiday cards, are designed anew each year by a Vienna artist. Freeman House, in its snowy glory, is featured in 2014. The cards, designed by Vienna Arts Society artist-of-the-year Debi Elliott, are sold in packs of ten, either with message or blank, for $8.50.

Fiore makes the decorated grapevine wreaths for sale in Freeman Store. The wreaths start at $14.50.

The preserves come from Graves’ Mountain in Virginia and are priced at $6 and up. Vienna tea towel are $8 and up, and Historic Vienna, Inc. afghans – depicting iconic Vienna landmarks – sell for $50.

The Freeman Store and Museum is owned by the Town of Vienna and operated jointly by the Town and Historic Vienna, Inc.

The Freeman Store is open Wednesday through Sunday, noon to 4 p.m. It will be open throughout the evening for Santa and for sales during the Church Street Holiday Stroll on Monday, Dec. 2.

Visit www.historicviennainc.org for store and museum information.

The Freeman Store and Museum, a circa 1850 white clapboard house, is at 131 Church Street NE, at corner of Church and Mill streets, across from the caboose parking lot.

*“Birdwatchers” and wildlife-watchers, take note.

For the bird, bat, owl, squirrel-watcher or wildlife -watcher on your gift list, head over to the newly-opened “Birdwatchers” at the corner of Beulah Road and Maple Avenue. The shop, owned by Vienna resident Cindy DiMeglio, reflects her love of birds and backyard wildlife. There are birdfeeders, cylindrical and house-y, birdhouses made in Maine of real wood, orthnologically-correct. Bluebirds, for example, have housing preferences different from woodpeckers. Most have one or two sides that open, protected with Plexiglas, to allow for cleaning or for observation of nest.

The shop sells birdseed in packages from small to huge, as well as baffles to keep squirrels out of the birdfeeders, birdbaths to provide water during the cold months. The deck-mounted heated birdbath [Kozy Bird Spa, $116] prevents water from freezing. Birds need water as much as they need food, DiMeglio says. “Birdwatchers” birdbaths range in price from $35 to $150.

DiMeglio grew up watching birds; her shop reflects her passion. Her knowledge is so vast that speaking with her can turn a football fanatic into a bird watcher. Pick up a birdhouse or birdfeeder for anyone with an interest in nature. The bat condos [$52] are architectural curiosities, sure to delight anyone who sleeps upside down.

“Birdwatchers” is at 396 Maple Avenue East; its phone number is 703-242-4565 and web address is www.birdwatchersvienna.com. Husband Jeff and son Nick are on-hand on weekends to guide customers around the store. Currently, the shop’s hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday.

*”The Artful Gift Shop” is, well, "artful,” and is full of unique and distinctive local artisan crafts, from handcrafted animal-face clocks to playful handcrafted birdhouses, jewelry, and hats and scarves hand-knitted by shop manager David James. James’ sister Peggy owns and operates The Artful Gift Shop with an ear and an eye to bringing high-quality local crafts to Vienna. She’s also one of the town’s most dedicated community supporters, donating her time to Vienna events and associations.

What’s so nice about “The Artful Gift Shop” – besides Peggy and David – is that the shop offers collections that appeal to diverse interests. Know someone who loves pets? Consider the animal-face clocks, handmade. Is there someone on your gift list that loves one-of-a-kind jewelry? The James’ offer lots of that.

There’s no other shop in Vienna that sells hand-knit wool hats and scarves. While David works in the shop, he knits there. There’s always an ample stock on-hand. The hats are so well-crafted, even an Irishman in Ireland asked where one such hat was made. How’s that for an endorsement? David will custom-knit a hat or scarf for a customer; just tell him what you’d like. His hats and scarves sell for $18 to $24.

Is there a sports fan in your family? “The Artful Gift Shop” sells sport-themed birdhouses handcrafted by Vienna resident Howard Lewis. The houses sell for $68. Like David’s hats and scarves, you can buy a birdhouse off the shelf or ask the shop to have Lewis custom-make one for you.

*Vienna’s Maple Avenue ABC has a staff and manager that take the time to describe and explain the liquor’s store inventory. Have questions about seasonal products or what makes a single-malt different from a blend or how does the cask influence the taste? Ask an informed employee there; they know their selection and how the liquors are made. The store is like a Toys R’ Us for adults. Spend $50, before taxes, and get 10 percent off on Black Friday, Nov. 29. The store opens early that day, at 8 a.m.

Seasonal highlights include (real) Maple Crème liqueur, Gingerbread Beer Bourbon, Pumpkin Pie and Apple Harvest liqueurs, and gift packs of top-shelf scotches, bourbons, gins, and liqueurs. Special reserve scotches come out in the fall.

Nineteen-year-old Glenfiddich single-malt scotch, “Age of Discovery,” spent its aging life in American oak casks that were originally used for bourbon. The scotch has a distinct bourbon edge to it. It sells for $179.95 so it really is for the scotch aficionado. Speaking of scotch aficionados …. the Vienna ABC features Johnny Walker Blue label bottle engravings on a multiple of dates in December. At $229.95 for a 750-ML bottle, your recipient deserves to see his name inscribed.

Not every specialty spirit is priced in the stratosphere. Sazerac straight rye whiskey sells for $29.95. The Sazerac rye is released in October of every year and fall is the only time it comes to market.

John J. Bowman single-barrel Virginia straight bourbon, produced in small batches in Fredericksburg, is priced at $49.95. Abraham Bowman produces a seasonal gingerbread beer bourbon.

The seasonal liqueurs, Kahlua peppermint mocha, Cabot Trail Maple Cream, Fulton’s Harvest and Pinnacle pumpkin pie, and Pinnacle Peppermint Bark, sell in the $10 to $23 price range, all for 750 ML.

If you waited until now to order 20-year-old Pappy Van Winkle bourbon, you waited too long. The three-year waiting list is closed; not bad for a $133.75 bourbon. Family Reserve Van Winkle, aged 12 years and selling for $54.90, has only a one-year waiting list and there’s still time to get in on that one. Both Pappy and Family Reserve have December Virginia release dates.

The Vienna ABC opens at 8 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 29. When the season products are gone, they’re gone until next year.

The Vienna ABC store is located at 436 Maple Avenue East. Call 703-938-2476 for holiday hours.

*The Vienna Rexall Drug Center, owned by the Borgatti family since the 1960s, has some pretty distinctive gifts in the store, including Vienna’s most-varied selection of Virginia Diner peanuts and nut snacks. The Old Bay seasoned peanuts, a savory sensation priced at $12 for 18 ounces, brings a bit of the Chesapeake Bay to out-of-town gift recipients.

Old-fashioned “buttery” peanut brittle sells for $13.50 for 16 ounces. Of course, you can buy the traditional Virginia Diner salted and unsalted peanuts, as well.

When you’ve had your fill of nuts, you can look over the selection of Vienna-logo sweatshirts and T-shirts. U.S.A.-made sweatshirts sell for $19.99 in adult sizes. Cute “Somebody in Vienna, VA, loves me” sweatshirts for kids are priced at $13.99. What kid would not be delighted to be loved by “somebody in Vienna.”

The Vienna Drug Center also offers a selection of walkers and fancy canes, as well as senior aids … because you never know what is on someone’s wish-list.

The Vienna Rexall Drug Center is at 150 Maple Avenue West.