Ditch Amazon, Shop South End “Gems” This Holiday Season

by Jessie McKenna and Marti McKenna

This year for Shop Small Saturday, Seattle’s Office of Economic Development (OED) embarked on a month-long campaign to promote small business in Seattle, with a particular focus on PoC-, immigrant-, family-, LGBTQI+-, and women-owned businesses—and businesses owned by folx at various intersections therein.

The campaign was a pilot project Seattle will hopefully see bigger and better versions of in the coming years. It featured online trivia via platforms like Facebook and Instagram. An example of the types of questions posed:

“What % of Seattle small business are owned by People of Color?”

According to OED, the answer is: 21.6 percent. Its Facebook post went on to state that “in 2012, 8 million businesses were PoC-owned. So go big, shop small, and support your favorite PoC-owned gems.”

There’s also an online photo contest, that’s still going on nowwhere you can take a pics at your favorite small businesses and post them on Facebook/Instagram with the hashtag #seattlegems for a chance to win a fancy dinner for two and a seaplane ride. The business where the pic was taken also gets a prize in the form of a marketing consultation from another local small business.

The event culminated in a pop-up Shop Seattle Gems festival on Beacon Hill with South End vendors selling goods from handmade salt scrubs and food seasonings with names like “Kanye Pepper” to silkscreened t-shirts with gorgeous local designs to original paintings and prints. There were also delicious local tamales, tortas, pizzas, and more served up throughout the day.

Outdoor markets and festivals are hard to come by this time of year, though a number of holiday bazaars and the like tend to pop up in early December. With a little effort, however, you can find a plethora of local goods to shop for with intention this holiday season and year-round.

You can support PoC-owned businesses online and an actual person on the other end will receive your order and ship your items within five days, like this “Ginger Hendrix” seasoning, great for a foodie family member or as a stocking stuffer. Or this “Wishful Sinking” tee for a friend or relation. Who do you know who needs to represent “the Souf En” in style? (Recognize that hat model?)

Afraid your items won’t get here in time? Get out and about in the neighborhood and check out the incredible range of goods between the Central District and Renton, Rainier Valley and South Park. There’s a world of unique, lovely, handmade, affordable gifts you’ll find right here in the South End.

Some destination ideas:

Chinatown-International District

Do yourself a favor and make Vital T Leaf a destination for an outing. It’s a win-win—Amanda will serve you fresh-brewed imported tea, and when you find one you really like (which will probably be all of them), you can buy a small package as a gift for a tea lover in your life. This place will turn people who think they aren’t “tea people” into veritable tea people in one sitting.

After this short break from the hustle and bustle of December in Seattle, cross the street to Pacific Range Hoods & Modern Trading Co. Then experience the whimsy and wonder of Momo on the next block and zig-zag your way to Moksha after that. And if you think someone in your life needs acupuncture, gift an appointment with House of Teuila.

Image Credit: Vital T Leaf

Beacon Hill

Grab a Mexican mocha and breakfast sandwich—or mouth-watering biscuits and gravy—at The Station and then pick up a couple of memberships to Estelita’s Library for those special folx in your life who would enjoy and benefit from reading about history, social justice, great leaders, and more (not to mention “Po’ Boy Fridays” and good conversation!). Then grab some Mexican snacks and candy at La Esperanza for your stockings. Have lunch at El Quetzal or Baja Bistro. Get your hair done quickly, affordably, and beautifully, at Robyn Padlan Hair Salon. Give the gift of health and well-being to someone at The Well on Beacon.

Or, if you find yourself near Cafetal Quilombo, grab a hot latte and rajas tamales, then walk over to pick up some conchas, roasted corn, and stocking stuffers at El Oxacaqeño. When you get home, go online and support local artist Raquel Garcia by picking some beautiful, bright, original pieces or prints.

Image Credit: Estelita’s Library


Grab an “exceptional” cup of hot coffee from Cafe Red and then peruse Graham Jewelers for something shiny for that someone in your life with a heart of gold. Across the street and north a couple of blocks you’ll find Platinum Plush Fashion. Who knows what else you might discover while you’re in the area? Don’t be afraid to walk in to a place you’ve never been, even if you’re not sure what it’s all about. The South End is an amalgamation of cultures and ideas. Get out of your comfort zone. Unique gifts don’t find themselves!    

Image Credit: Platinum Plush Fashion

Rainier Beach

Pick up a plethora of hair products and more at Living Color Beauty Supply, clothing and accessories at Moe’s Urban Wear, right by tasty Paranormal Pie! Drop by Drae’s Lake Route Eatery for some southern comfort food and get Christmas-morning donuts, teriyaki, and do your extra holiday laundry to prepare for guests at King Donuts.

Rainier Valley & Mt. Baker

Make your own personalized holiday gifts for loved ones at Emerald City Fired Arts! Need something high-quality printed for the holidays quickly and reasonably-priced? Look no further than Saigon Printing. Get a hair cut at Changes Hair Studio (don’t neglect your hair just because it’s the season of giving…). Pick up something baked fresh for mornings with the family or dinner with guests at the new Mt. Baker location of Golden Wheat Bakery Cafe. Hit The Saloon for a cocktail hour and head to Lil Red to take home some mouth-watering BBQ prepared by “master smoke artisan” (that’s a thing!) Erasto Jackson.

Image Credit: Golden Wheat Bakery Cafe

Columbia City & Hillman City

Visit Karla at Andaluz and pick up pretty and quirky gifts for everyone in this fabulous boutique. Give yourself a gift and get your nails done at Fashion Nail. While you’re in the neighborhood, stop in at the brand-new Queen Care retail store for some spa day essentials. Have a hot Ethiopian lunch or dinner at Kezira Cafe (lots of vegetarian options, plus gluten-free injera for the win if you call ahead!). See what’s good at West African Market Imports.

Image Credit: Andaluz

Skyway & Downtown Renton

Any second now, Boona Boona Coffee’s long-anticipated physical location will open up in downtown Renton. Their specialty is sourcing green, unroasted coffee beans for the daily coffee ceremony practiced by the East African community. But you don’t have to wait for them to open to buy their coffee and lovely merch! Abyssinia Hair Salon down the street and around the corner from the new Boona Boona location does it all, from microblading to hair color and conditioning treatments. This is a fun shopping area, and if you haven’t had a chance to visit recently, there are many new shops to check out.

Image Credit: Boona Boona House of Coffee

Central District & East Capitol Hill

The next two Saturdays, Africatown is hosting a Creative Youth Holiday Carnival and a Soul Holiday Market. The first event, on December 15, will feature youth vendors, DIY decorations and crafts, a Kwanza presentation, and the list goes on! The December 22 event will have vendors, food trucks, music, and games.

While you’re here, stop in at Cortana Cafe for coffee and community and try their handmade waffles. CD visitors who miss Jemil’s Big Easy’s grub truck should know that they still cater, and though Lika Love has now closed their CD boutique, you can still shop online and catch their mobile boutique wherever it lands.

And you can pick up That Brown Girl Cooks’ famous black eyed pea hummus at Central-Coop for your holiday gatherings!

On 15th Ave in Capitol Hill, spend an hour at Ada’s Technical Cafe where you can grab coffee, eat vegan and vegetarian food, and pick up books and other gifts. And if you need a place to meet up for dinner, check out Jamjuree or head to Adey Abeba.

Taste and purchase chocolate gifts at Intrigue Coffee and Chocolate House.

Image Credit: Africatown-Central District

Downtown Seattle

Eighth Generation is a must if you’re heading downtown. It’s nestled into a lower level of the north end of Pike Place, in the “Atrium,” right off 1st Ave and above the gum wall. Find a gift for someone here that’s not “Native-inspired” but rather made by #INSPIREDNATIVES. Go for a traditional Filipino breakfast at Ludi’s Restaurant & Lounge before hitting the gallery and shop at Pike Place.

On the way back to the South End, stop by Dockside Cannabis in SoDo for gifts of green.

And consider this friends, while passing by any of the gazillion incredible restaurants from Renton to just north of I-90: gift cards to hair/nail salons and spas and fantastic local restaurants make great holiday gifts!

When you shop local, PoC-owned businesses, shops owned and operated by LGBTQI+ folx, immigrant- and women-owned places, you’re helping to build and maintain the foundation on which these businesses can continue to grow and thrive.

You still want these businesses to be here in five years as the waves of gentrification continue to crash on our shores, yes? We can’t stop growth, and arguably, we wouldn’t want to. What we can do is take the wheel and drive growth with our behaviors — our shopping, our hard-earned dollars, our intent.

We have so much power to wield and when we use it to click that “Prime” two-day shipping button, we’re making a choice not to be part of the solution in that particular moment.

You can make the holidays better for your neighbors by buying your coffee, gifts, groceries, holiday meal items, and more from small businesses in your area. Give the gift of a healthy economy for your community and share it with your family and friends when you share gifts you bought locally during the holidays. Tell them about the people you met, the stories you heard, the traditions and holidays from other cultures you learned about while spending quality time doing your holiday shopping in and around your neighborhood.

PS: Here’s a an upcoming 3-day event you can show some love to — Duwamish Longhouse Native NW Holiday Gift Fair. After all, we’re living, shopping, and celebrating our various holidays on Duwamish land.

Editor’s note: This list is by no means comprehensive and the locations mentioned should be considered merely ideas for gift/holiday shopping, etc. Please drop us a line
if you’d like to share some of your favorite small businesses for consideration in a future round-up.

Jessie McKenna is a contributor for the South Seattle Emerald. She also contracts with the Beacon Business Alliance, or just BBA (formerly Beacon Hill Merchants). She worked on the Beacon Hill Shop Seattle Gems Pop-Up Festival helping to coordinate and facilitate the event and promote/amplify the broader OED campaign via online promotion and other platforms.

Featured image: Emerald collage of promotional photos chosen from various online sources related to this article including Boona Boona, Vital T Leaf , and the Facebook pages of AndaluzEstelita’s LibraryPlatinum Plush Fashions and Eighth Generation (the latter of which features the “Emergence” Beach Towel designed by Inspired Natives Project collaborator John Isaiah Pepion).

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