Offbeat Christmas: Gifts range from tarantulas to giant, edible gingerbread houses

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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It’s the thought that counts but sometimes it’s the sheer act of bravado that adds up to a memorable Christmas present that will live forever – or in infamy. Tis the season for giving and receiving. For some, it’s a chance to let the imagination take flight in weird and wonderful directions. Instead of slippers, gift cards and a new tie, some givers are thinking unique antiques, motorcycles and even tarantulas. In a shop at the corner of Lincoln Way and Cleveland Avenue brimming with antiques and collectibles, Downtown Antiques owner Rich Kistle can point to plenty of potentially off-beat presents. Out front, he’s offering a 1940s Westinghouse “10-cent” Coke machine for $950. He can point to a Big Bad Wolf alarm clock tucked into a glass case that dates from the 1930s and an autographed 1946 Chicago Cubs baseball selling for $250. “People who buy antiques are always looking for something unusual,” Kistle said. “The gifts are different because they’re nostalgic.” Even license plates can become an object of desire – given the right driver of the right age. Kistle recently sold a set of mint-condition 1956 California plates for $300. “When someone has spent $30,000 to $40,000 on a car, $300 seems cheap,” Kistle said. Aaron Kay, Downtown Auburn’s Kay’s Reptiles owner, points out a fuzzy tarantula in his store and recalls one mom who arrived days earlier wanting to buy it for her adult son but then was too squeamish to approach it herself. The rattled, arachnophobia-prone gift giver ended up buying a gift card so her son could choose the spider he wanted – and also deal with taking it home, Kay said. Kay said his shop is finding a good Yuletide market for leopard geckos and bearded dragons as well as a tarantula or two. The tarantulas in his shop are all only mildly venomous, he said. Even so, Kay suggested with a Santa-like twinkle in his eye that they not be placed in a Christmas stocking as a surprise. Carlo Lujan, co-owner of North Auburn’s C&E Auburn V Twin, said he played Santa to one gift giver with a big ticket gift – driving a motorcycle in through the front door to the surprise of the giftee. The C&E shop has a range of gift ideas – from T-shirts and logo-imprinted pillows up to a $24,000 trike conversion of a Harley Davidson motorcycle. Lujan said he’d be willing to play Santa, even dress up in the costume if he can find one that fits, to ensure a gift of wheels arrives at a home and theoretically makes it under the Christmas tree on Christmas Day. HomeTown Realtors owner Sue Thompson said that the idea of buying a home as a Christmas present makes sense to her – as long as the surprise is for the children and not a spouse on Dec. 25. “It reminds me of the movie “Miracle on 34th St,” when Santa bought the house and provided a happy ending,” Thompson said. Thompson said what she finds amazing is that many folks will drop by Christmas Eve after making a decision to find a house. That’s a little late for an actual pre-Christmas sale to take place. Thompson said that with cash, an inspection and a preliminary title report, a sale could take place in a week. And then there are buyers earlier in the fall who say they want to be in their new homes by Christmas – a process that could take up to 90 days. “Holiday spirit takes hold and people want to create that feeling of home, a sense of place and start their own traditions,” Thompson said. ---------------------------------------------------- White, wild and wonderful Christmas Neiman Marcus has been offering fantastical Christmas gift ideas in its holiday time Christmas Book catalog since tantalizing the public with his and hers matching Beechcraft airplanes in 1960 for $176,000. Here are some of the highlights of the catalog this year: - $248,000 diamond and gold his and hers charm bracelets marking the 50th anniversary of the first Neiman Marcus fantasy gifts. The charms commemorate those first Beechcraft planes as well as other eye-popping presents through the years, including a Chinese junk and a hot-air balloon. Just one bracelet is being offered this year. - $75,000 Neiman Marcus limited edition Camaro convertible. A 426 horsepower V-8 powers a 2SS model painted a shade of deep Bordeaux with ghosted stripes. - $15,000 edible gingerbread house replete with cookies, lollipops, gummies, mints and gumdrops. - $6,000 ukulele hand made by Santa Monica luthier Danny Ferrington, described as the world’s premiere maker of custom guitars and stringed instruments. - $17,500 limited edition Neiman Marcus Leica M9-NM digital camera with a chrome body trimmed in ostrich leather. Comes with a private training and orientation session from a Leica rep. Source: Neiman Marcus Christmas Book