Avoid New York’s big stores jammed with fullback shoppers and endless queues.
Cool gifts can be found in less populated neighborhoods of downtown Manhattan.
Aedes de Venustas
Open on Christopher Street since 1995, Aedes de Venustas is a heaven of scents. In a room decorated with burgundy and gold tones reminiscent of a Renaissance canvas, the shop hosts a vast and nicely displayed collection of candles, perfumes and creams.
Brands include Cire Trudon, which lit the intrigues of the 18th-century French court, and the Diptyque line of scented candles. My pick is the latter’s “Tubereuse Rouge” ($90), which combines unrivaled perfume in a fine and simple design.
Not to be found elsewhere are the “Ernesto” and “Abd el Kader” pillar candles ($115) created especially for the store.
Before you leave, meet the Aedes de Venustas mascots, Shih Tzus Romy and Lucy.
At 9 Christopher St. Information: +1-212-206-8674; http://www.aedes.com.
Left Bank Books
This store in the West Village specializes in first editions and other rare books.
It’s where you’ll find a $5,000 first edition of Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms,” and where you’ll be likely to spend your afternoon browsing, reading, looking and marveling.
The store’s assortment includes signed copies of Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” and Albert Einstein’s “Out of My Later Years.”
At 17 Eighth Ave. Information: +1-212-924-5638; http://www.leftbankbooksny.com/index.html.
Mimi Vang Olsen
Half-Hungarian, half-Armenian and married to a Danish man, Mimi Vang Olsen has been around since the 1980s, when Greenwich Village was still a neighborhood of writers and artists. “It was colorful,” she told me. “There were many characters, of which very few are left.”
She remains, however, and continues to paint portraits of pets in the same store she has owned for almost 30 years.
You call her up -- she doesn’t use computers -- and she’ll arrange to meet the pet, take photos and discuss the outcome of the work. An oil on canvas in one of several sizes takes a month and $2,500.
For $150 she’ll paint your pet on holiday ornaments and boxes. One image can be done in five days, and you’ll have your pet on the Christmas tree every year.
At 545 Hudson St. Information: +1-212-675-5410.
Treasure & Bond
Treasure & Bond lies on West Broadway in the heart of SoHo and offers a different take on retail and philanthropy, donating all its profit to charities benefiting children.
Passing a larger-than-life piggy bank called Penelope or Oscar (the name hasn’t been decided yet), I graze the loft-like space and its colorful mix of clothing, accessories, home furniture and jewelry. I am tempted by a cashmere scarf ($162), a hat in fun colors ($265) and a bag of very familiar design for $65.
No, it’s not an authentic Balenciaga, but a cotton tote with the front of the designer bag printed on one side, and its back on the other -- much cooler than the real thing.
If you’re looking for jewelry, go for the handmade wool and crystal necklace designed by Akong London ($840). It’s almost a work of art.
At 350 West Broadway. Information: +1-646-669-9049; http://www.treasureandbond.com/site.
Founded in 2001 by three-time cancer survivor Lee Rhodes, Glassybaby is a great story -- it creates and sells hand-blown glass cups, and gives part of the profits to charity.
The stock in 400 different colors comes from 70 artists working in a Seattle factory. When the cup is used as a candleholder, the colors change as they’re lit.
So far, the company has donated more than $650,000 to charities involved with cancer patients. Each piece is $44.
At 555 Hudson St. Information: +1-917-546-6850; http://www.glassybaby.com.
For trendy, expensive brands head to Opening Ceremony. You’ll find Proenza Schouler’s hip bags, Alexander Wang’s shoes and Rodarte’s dresses in the $6,000 range. There are lace head-pieces, multi-colored sunglasses, silk patterned scarves and pieces by emerging designers, often being shown in the U.S. for the first time.
The second floor features mostly Argentine designers. Worth consideration are a pair of leopard-patterned fake-pony hair shoes ($280), handmade wallets by Arandu and Ale Sly’s small cowhide bags ($115).
Olympia Le Tan’s book-clutches imitate famous literary works. You can have “Madame Bovary” for $1,630 and “The Glass Menagerie” for $1,425.
There’s a sleeveless dress from the 1920s ornamented with real silver beads ($2,530). If it flops, you can sell the silver. I am told it might be worth more than the dress.
At 35 Howard St. Information: +1-212-219-2688; http://www.openingceremony.us.
(Lili Rosboch writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are her own.)