There are plenty of swap-gift and Christmas-decor ideas at All for Windows in Pelham.
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Finding the perfect gifts for loved ones can be stressful enough without having to worry about mall traffic and the hectic atmosphere of busy chain stores.

Spending the day Christmas shopping at some of the locally owned businesses in Pelham, Dracut and Methuen, beginning with a hearty breakfast, is an easy solution to avoiding holiday madness.

It’s 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning and Alicia’s Diner in Pelham is already bustling with people.

First on the agenda before a long day of Christmas shopping is a steaming cup of coffee followed by a hearty breakfast at the 116 Bridge St. establishment. The energy is a necessity for an all-day shopping fest.

The waitress brings a mounding plate of pancakes, scrambled eggs and bacon to the booth. The last few moments of the day’s sanity slip away as the food is devoured — a well-spent $4.95.

The shopping list is long and patience is already short. It’s best to organize the list beginning with the easiest gifts to shop for and finish up with the most difficult.

The pet and swap gifts are first since neither recipient is likely to complain. The dog can’t talk and chances are the swap recipient will have no clue who the gift is from.

First stop, a small store that may seem like any other wall-curtain shop from the outside. But inside, the scent of cinnamon and spice precedes stacks of many things nice. The shop, All For Windows, sits in Pelham at the Hillside Plaza at 122 Bridge St. Besides custom designs and anything the heart desires for curtain fabrics and wall accessories, the shop is a hidden treasure chest of swap-gift ideas.

From candles and jewelry to clocks, lamps and artwork, the options are endless. The tiny shop even carries an array of last-minute holiday décor items.

“A lot of people come in here and are pleasantly surprised when they see all of the gift options we have,” said seamstress Jan Massie.

Back in the car and two avoided side-swipe collisions later, the parking lot of Twin Oak Garden and Pet Supply at 87 Bridge St. in Pelham is a welcoming beacon.

Owner Lynne Day smiles and explains the hot items for dog stockings this year. “The big mammoth bones are really popular,” she said, walking toward the back of the store. “They’re perfect for distracting the dogs while the family sits to eat their holiday meal.”

She pulls a gravy-coated bone the size of her right arm out of a bin and waves it around.

Apparently tennis balls are also a big item for dogs this year.

Even Zahn, Pelham’s police dog, is getting a basket full of goodies from Twin Oak. But he’ll have to wait until Christmas to find out if he’s getting a new ball since Day refused to spill the beans.

For anyone seeking an unusual gift for a child, something that isn’t titled with a sequence of numbers and letters like PSP or iPod, the Pelham Art Center is the place to go.

How about a gift certificate for art lessons? Owner Liz Schedeler offers a variety of weekly class options for drawing, painting and even sewing lessons for adults and children. For $10 per class, students have the chance to socialize and learn basic- to advanced-level material. A rolled paint-brush set, a couple of canvases and an acrylic paint set make for a great holiday gift package.

“Acrylic paints are best for beginners because they clean up easier and dry faster,” said Schedeler.

Dracut Hardware at 1982 Lakeview Ave., in business since 1953, is still the best one-stop shop spot for the man on anyone’s list. The hot item this year? According to Debbie Cognac, the knowledgeable and friendly counter helper, is the Toro Snow Thrower.

“You can also pick up hammers, screwdriver sets and flashlights for stocking stuffers,” said Cognac.

Now that the males on the list are taken care of, the dog is set for a distraction and the swap gift is checked off, it’s time to shop for the ladies on the list.

Everyone loves to be pampered, but working a full-time job and taking care of a home and children leave most people struggling to find the time to vacuum, let alone paint their toenails.

Spa ni’joli, located on 116 Pleasant Valley St. in Methuen, offers several gift packages to alleviate stress in any busy person’s life.

Gift certificates can be purchased over the phone and mailed out, or for the more ambitious shopper, pretty gift packages filled with the promise of a hot stone pedicure, Swedish massage, customized facial and much more can be picked up at the spa.

The most popular gift package this year, according to retail associate Rachel Frazier, is the Relax Me ni’joli, which includes a half-hour Swedish massage, a pedicure and a manicure all for $99.

At 4 p.m., the day of shopping is done and the energy from breakfast is long since exhausted. All thoughts are focused on the next meal.

The smell of cheese and deep-fried dough wafts through the air in The Italian Kitchen on 91 Common St. in Lawrence. The sound of frying oil and soft music have a lulling effect after a long day of swiping credit cards and lugging shopping bags.

The menu is full of yummy Italian treats, but rice balls and crispellis are the most popular items.

“We’re the only ones in the United States that sell the anchovy crispellis,” said owner Ruth Messina.

Ruth’s husband Peter Messina opened the neighborhood staple 45 years ago. The cheese, plain, sugar and anchovy crispellis quickly became the restaurant’s number-one seller.

“They’re just fried dough stuffed with your choice of filler,” said Messina.

Since the restaurant also caters, booking for an upcoming holiday party is as simple as ordering a pan of baked macaroni, lasagna, or mini rice balls and antipasto platters.

Now that the shopping is done, it’s time to tackle the wrapping paper and tape. But not before finishing the last bite of cheese crispelli.

Have a story idea? Contact Heidi Smith at 978-970-4653 or e-mail at hsmith@thevalleydispatch.com.