Oberlin Local Businesses Offer Creative Gift Ideas


Photo by Maeve Woltring

Laurel Kirtz, owner of local consignment shop All Things Great, sits in front of her carefully curated shoe collection.

College students are typically not the best gift-givers, as the end-of-semester frenzy often takes precedence over holiday spirit. Fortunately for all you stress-riddled Scrooges, this semester’s schedule offers some extra time to find the perfect student budget-friendly tchotchkes to gift your friends and family. With finals falling after winter break, the Oberlin student body has the novel opportunity to shop for holiday gifts outside of Mudd study breaks. But if you’re like me, this opportunity might simply threaten to illuminate the impressive extent of your procrastination. Enter this time-efficient cure-all: the Oberlin guide to gift giving. From a stroll downtown to a scroll through the Oberlin Pottery Co-op’s Instagram feed, the answer to your holiday prayers may be just down the block.

Nestled on Main Street is All Things Great, a stockpiled wonderland of great consignment. According to shop owner Laurel Kirtz, All Things Great is all about mutualistic exchange. Her business model: reduce waste, supply service, and opportunize peace of mind. To put it simply, Laurel Kirtz knows her stuff. Born and bred in Oberlin, Kirtz has been in the thrift game since the ripe old age of 19, though her path toward a career in consignment was not straightforward. Her journey started with house cleaning and led to work in decluttering, a gig that established a long-standing amity between Kirtz and other people’s overlooked objects. Kirtz can pick good linen out of a sea of polyester, and she would never sell you a polyurethane-soled shoe. Though she has a particular af- finity for ’20s wear and mending old furs, Kirtz’s store title rings true: she collects, sells, and repairs pretty much everything.

“From new to old, from something you can wear to something that you can decorate your home with to something that you actually need, we have the finest selection,” Kirtz said. “It’s a mix of traditional thrift store items, curated vintage boutique, and a classic resale shop… I focus on quality.”

Kirtz’s command and repertoire of objects transcends the material — years of mining, studying, and repairing other people’s stuff bears an interpersonal insight that she undoubtedly implements in her store’s goals and curation. She regards her racks of shoes and drawers of baubles with a nearly familial tenderness, perhaps born from a close consideration of their origins.

“Part of being a stuff-handler is about handling other people’s psychological obstacles,” Kirtz said. “It’s often about quality, which is why I’ll put ‘hundred percent cotton’ on a tag or ‘wool blend’. I’ll let you know what the ingredients are so that you know what you’re buying.”

When prompted to select a favorite contender for a Christmas gift, Kirtz was nearly at a loss — there’s simply too much to choose from. I left her store with a pair of silver hoops and woolen mittens in arm, but on another day I would’ve gone for the floor length silk slip hanging on the back wall. And maybe a grecian urn and some vintage cowboy boots for good measure.

Ratsy’s thrift and gift shop on Main Street boasts a vibrant variety of quirky curios and funky fashion. (Photo by Maeve Woltring)

Elsewhere on Main Street sits a wacky and whimsical Oberlin retail staple: Ratsy’s. For the past 16 years, owner Ratsy Kemp has offered inventory true to her slogan, “Never be Normal”. Kemp’s business began as a vintage store, but her collection quickly shed any easy categorization. A peruse through Ratsy’s is akin to entering the dreamscape of Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, but with a Tim Burton-esque twist.

“I started making weird things,” she said. “I have dinosaur people; I have emotional support limbs. I put together weird packages of limbs and now teeth. Sometimes I make the earrings. My boyfriend puts together the weird planter heads.”

The aforementioned “planter head” refers to a potted plant sprouting not only a vacant-eyed, scalped baby doll head, but a tiny arm and a shelf of fungi. If you’re looking for a more conventional gift, however, Ratsy suggests her cheeky collection of mugs, socks, and mysteriously designated “weird toothbrushes.”

Oberlin Pottery Co-op sells leftover pottery at both in-person and online events alike and donates all proceeds to Oberlin Community Services. (Photo by Luke Stenberg)

Closer to home and crafted by loving student hands is the Oberlin Pottery Co-op. Co-op president and College third-year Luke Stenberg has been a member since their first year, and though they have surely honed their pottery skills over the past three years, they said that the co-op requires no initial skill level. Co-op work hours are mandatory for members, but the small cover fee is not. Members are welcome in the studio 24/7, with enough materials at their disposal to sculpt and throw to their heart’s content. Stenberg’s suggestion? Join the community to pour a little extra love into your gifting game.

“Anyone can join no matter what experience level,” they said. “People shouldn’t be scared to try pottery because they can learn so easily with office hours and online materials. If you’re trying to make a really nice gift that’s handmade and it’s also super functional, pottery is perfect.”

This isn’t to say that the co-op solely offers a space for students to create their own work – they also sell unclaimed pottery at campus events such as TGIF and Maker’s Market. This past weekend, they held a special annual event — Empty Mugs— during which Oberlin students and community members had the chance to peruse a vast selection of work, and put their money to a noble cause. The co-op is partnered with Oberlin Community Services, so all of the collective’s proceeds are distributed to the Oberlin community.

If you’re pressed for time and missed last week- end’s event, it’s not too late! The co-op is launching an online sale on their Instagram this coming weekend.