Story by Autumn Alexander

If you find yourself muddled about surprises for youngsters come the holidays, here’s Santa’s rundown on trendy gifts around town.

Children are normally the most eager of gift recipients on the holiday list. Many a little boy or girl, too, up to around age 8 will find parking space for the Bruder toy truck series sold at the Inland Octopus toy store at 7 E. Main St. The Bruder line is German made and are “just like the real thing,” a saleswoman reports. Crane trucks, earth movers, dump trucks, stackers with pallets, backhoes and more manipulative machinery in this line deliver quality haptics — the designs and materials look and feel good to the touch. Prices on these toys range from about $30 to $120.

Inland Octopus also handles amusements for adolescents and even young adults, from Monty Python wall décor and laugh-inciting socks, earrings and brain-teasing puzzles, with prices from under $10 on up. Hard to miss is the store’s famous array of puppets, ranging from finger-size icons such as Frida Kahlo and Lambchop at $2 to a green python that doesn’t need feeding. The puppets cost between $15 to $40. A wealth of toys and entertainment is the store’s specialty, says Mary Hernandez, the manager.

Right next door to the toy store is Bright’s Candies, another Walla Walla institution. The family-owned candy and gift store at 11 E. Main St. dazzles with handmade chocolates, gleaming jars of gummy candies, fresh caramel corn and much more sure to stand up to anyone’s tastes.

Sweetwater Paper and Home at 101 E. Alder St. has an array of youthful gifts that owner Robin Consani has tucked into niches of the store. Her shelves attract those interested in gifts people haven’t encountered before.

For example, many young people play on high school golf teams. Useful for hot days on the greens are golf-ball ice molds at $14.95; 14-ounce stainless steel cups and 18-ounce insulated mugs, both enameled with golf ball textures, which cost $35 to $39. For a gift under $10, there’s a set of portable, collapsible dog bowls, two for $9. Or tuck a metal-boxed sneaker-cleaning kit for $20 under the tree or a compact bicycle repair kit for $19. Both gifts are index-card-size and feature appealing packing.

A heads-up to shoppers anywhere in the region though. Consani has her eye on the calendar. She’s waiting for more of “what’s new and what’s hot,” she says. She estimates at least 50% of her new stock is presently piled on idling ships in West Coast ports waiting to unload due to labor shortages brought on by the pandemic.

For young people up for fresh air in any season, gifts abound at local sporting goods stores. One of the most diverse offerings can be found at the Big 5 Sporting Goods Store at 1711 Twin Creek Place off state Route 125 in College Place. This store offers price points up and down the scale starting with an 18-ounce portable trash can perfect for a car or when perched along the river for a day trip. It’s a little do-good gift, a reminder to leave no trace when taking in the great outdoors.

Other nicely designed items include the Litez hanging and folding light for $11 and the Litez all-rechargeable bug zapper lantern for $20.

Yoli EasyLock collapsible cots for camping are a welcome gift. The cots come in two lengths and cost $60 and $80. They’re steady and sturdy. The edges snap shut with one clap. They lie flat when not in use. There’s also the New Millenium portable camping pad by Stanlar. This cushy, black, roll-up cushion is longer, wider and thicker than the line’s other pads. It goes for $48.99.

Developments in outdoor rainwear present additional possibilities for gift bags. A new tough rain suit called Frogg Togs is seam-sealed, black and has an expandable waist. Again, portability is a selling point. The set comes with its own pocket-size stuff sacks — $50 for top or bottoms, approximately $100.

Six sizes range from extra small to extra-large. This fabric breathes, according to Max Duvall, a longtime Big 5 employee. He should know. Duvall just transferred from the “wet side” of Washington state to attend college here in Walla Walla.

Lost Clothing and Shoe Company, at 111 E. Main St. in downtown Walla Walla, may be a favorite scouting spot among skate and long boarders, but it’s one of those best-kept unisex secrets for the “younger crowd,” says owner and buyer Mike Donnelly. He knows the niche; he’s made this shop roll for 17 years and 25 years before that in Pendleton.

Trendy clothing and shoe wear, be it boots or slip-on athletic shoes that rock streets and boards come in wide array, and the discounts table is front and center. This airy, modern store can please anyone of any age. Prices are not necessarily expensive, but they’re not cheap either.

Brands such as the North Face fingertip gloves sound spendy at $55, but they take wearers to zero degrees, allowing them to call home without taking the gloves off, stay warm and at the same time flaunt cool. And who wouldn’t smile over new unisex socks by Stance. They’re made of a merino blend called smart wool and offer quality end longevity for $26.

Arcade belts with any number of patterns — or not — are reasonable for gift giving at $28. These elastic one-size belts can be worn either for utility through belt loops or as fashion statements hung low over a sweater. And for the fashion forward whose stuff won’t fit into pockets, an over-the-shoulder, cross body pack called “Slinger” by Salty Crew is a winner and only costs $30.

When in doubt, Hot Poop, Walla Walla’s famed independent record store, is famous for “all things music,” as Jim McGuinn describes the astonishing warren of electronics, guitars, tapes, vinyl records, CDs, T-shirts and more. Especially hot right now are ukuleles. Prices start at $60.

Guitar choices are probably best left to gift certificates, however. Harmonicas start at $20 and rise to professional grades. And with Washington’s single-use plastic bag law now, Hot Poop’s image-screened canvas bags are an easy unisex gift costing $10. That’s the gift that will keep on giving for years to come.

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