Shopping Pearl Street Mall on a $20 budget

Boulder’s main drag at affordable prices

Nicole Zuccarello of Free People
Photo courtesy of Stephanie Buzalsky

The holidays roll around and most of my friends and family get some lovely homemade cookies wrapped up in red and green cellophane on a mighty decorative plastic plate. That’s about all that I can afford for my four big brothers and their growing families. Everything that seems worth buying is far too pricey, and Boulder’s main shopping haven, the famed Pearl Street Mall, always seems a bit out of reach. Even so, desperate for ideas that fit my starving-college-student budget, I went searching and found that tucked inside the bins and racks at some of Pearl Street’s most popular destinations are savvy shopping gems designed to help the thrifty shopper leave satisfied that they’ve found a great present that doesn’t break the bank.

Give the gift of toasty toes

Everyone wears socks, especially in the winter when those pesky extremities turn chilly fast. Socks get a bad rap as a Christmas present to avoid, but stores like Free People, Common Era and Two Sole Sisters have more to offer than your average functional white sock, and they’re incredibly affordable. Free People has an entire sock bin to choose from with prices starting at $18.

“Our socks take up something like seven bins in the back. Our customers love coziness,” says store manager of Free People Michelle Kinezovich.

Common Era has them for only $5 and Two Sole Sisters offers cushy cashmere blends and printed cotton socks that fit the budget too.

“We’ve got short socks, tall thigh highs, solid ones, colored ones, printed ones and the softest socks you will ever feel,” says Kinezovich.

Accessorize, accessorize, accessorize

If socks don’t quite suit your fancy, stores like Goldmine Vintage are ripe with hidden, cheap treasures that manager Bri Palato says even Grandma would love. At Goldmine, shoppers can find accessories like handmade, one-of-a-kind jewelry, ID cases, vintage hats and scarves, vintage sports jerseys for Dad and an entire rack of Christmas sweaters all priced under $20. The affordable vintage explosion continues with wallets, hairpins, gloves and Beatles button sets.

At Goldmine, Common Era, Free People and even the Peppercorn, shoppers can find incredible varieties of affordable jewelry like rings, necklaces, stud earrings and bracelets, all for less than $20.

Cleanliness is next to Godliness

There are plenty of places to buy gifts for the accessory-conscious person, but Pearl Street has other options as well. Lush puts together neat gift packages that essentially do the messy work of pairing scents and wrapping them up. They navigate the sea of soaps, shower jellies, shower bombs, sugar scrubs, bubble bars and body lotions and create combinations that come in colorful packages that look great and most importantly, are generally less than $17.

Fun for everyone

If there are children — or even that uncle that still acts like one — on your shopping list, Into the Wind offers enough under $20 gifts to intrigue kids of any age. At least half of the incredible variety of wind up toys, bouncy balls, puzzles and black light posters fit the budget. For so much less than $20, your niece or nephew could be the proud new owner of one of the store’s famous kites, science kits, lawn decorations and other non-electronic games that aim to stimulate the mind in ways that video games cannot.

Gifts for those that gave you life

Parents can seem like the most difficult people to shop for. If the goal is to get them something that they’ll love for reasons other than just that their precious child picked it out, places like Boulder Book Store and the Peppercorn have some inexpensive ways to accomplish it. Of the 25 books on Boulder Bookstores “Local Bestsellers” list, 17 are priced at under $20 and several of them, like A Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire: Book One by George R.R. Martin would make for many a happy holiday dad.

The Peppercorn is great for parents who relish the opportunity to spend some time in the kitchen or just prefer to eat the food that comes out of it. The store is stocked with all kinds of kitchen gadgets like the Kuhn Rikon potato peeler sold for $4.50, and dubbed the world’s best peeler by Janice Manzille, assistant to the owner. The Peppercorn offers the same convenience of prepackaged gifts as Lush. For under $20 you can get a wrapped Boulder Hot Sauce gift, a Chocolove gift set, or a tea and honey gift bag.

For the adventurous soul

Boulder is a town full of outdoor enthusiasts, so for the gifter looking to buy for the adventurer, or even just anyone who appreciates warm hands and hydration, GoLite has potential fixes.

“Our products cross over from adventure to just plain keeping warm,” says store manager Armen Malikian.

Whether it’s their smart phone compatible thinsulate gloves, fleece headliners and beanies, travel umbrellas or $3 water bottles that catch your eye, GoLite has much more to offer than just $200 coats.

With these words, I free you from the days of staring into store windows that only remind you how little cash you have in your pockets. Open that door, do some digging, get creative and approach Pearl Street with an open mind. There are gift-shopping steals to be found.