In these Midwest towns, you can shop till you drop, but leave plenty of time for tea with teddy bears, a ragtime party, a few frames of bowling and much more
By Sally M. Snell
For a unique shopping experience, Indianapolis Fountain Square (Virginia Avenue at Shelby and Prospect streets) is an all-in-one destination. Antique shops and art galleries abound in this historic district. Make a memory in the Fountain Square Theatre Building, where guests can learn to swing dance, bowl in a 1950s-era teal, red vinyl and neon alley, or play duckpin bowling on its upper floor.
Paper connoisseurs should make Dolphin Papers (1043 Virginia Ave.) their first stop.
For homey accommodations, stay at the Stone Soup Inn (1304 N. Central Ave.) or the Looking Glass Inn (1319 N. New Jersey St.). These AAA Three-Diamond properties invite romance, or beckon a reader with a hot cup of tea and a comfortable wingback.
The Hancock Observatory, with the highest open-air public viewing deck in Chicago, and the optional audio history of the surrounding neighborhoods, provides an excellent orientation to museums and historic sites.
Seeing it from above is one thing, but wouldnt it be great to see the real Chicago, up close? See Chicago with a Cop is a guided tour tailored to individual interests. Off-duty officers take small groups wherever their hearts fancy, be it to Wrigley Field or to find the best frankfurters in town, using public transportation. Rates for the six-hour tour start at $100 per person.
For a distinctly Chicago holiday celebration, attend The Christmas Schooner, a musical based on the true story of 19th-century sailors that forged through the ice of Lake Michigan to bring Christmas trees to Chicago. The play runs Nov. 23Dec. 30 at Bailiwick Arts Center, 1229 W. Belmont.
Alaska Shop, Gallery of Eskimo Art (104 E. Oak St.) sells aboriginal art produced by peoples in the Pacific Northwest and other indigenous cultures. The artist is inspired by nature and the stones initial shape when creating a carving.
The Spertus Museum (618 S. Michigan Ave.), which bills itself as the largest Jewish Museum in the Midwest, offers holiday shoppers books, fine jewelry, ceremonial pieces, and childrens items in the Bariff Shop for Judaica.
Television and radio mementos abound in the Museum of Broadcasting Communications shop (78 E. Washington). An archived collection contains more than 85,000 hours of radio and television programming, sure to bring favorite memories back.
The height of luxury can be found in Chicagos Park Hyatt (800 N. Michigan). Listen to classical music in your room while perched in a comfortable chair, and return from a night on the town to snack on chef-prepared treats on your night table.
The Teddy Bear Tea at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Clayton is a memory maker. Children dressed in their finest velvet dresses and suits, sip tea (or hot chocolate) out of fine china cups, their favorite teddy bear and adult alongside. After tea and sandwiches the children gather around to hear holiday tales.
The Dickens Luncheon at the St. Louis Art Museum in Forest Park highlights pieces in their collection contemporary to Dickens. Afterward guests gather for old English fare. The Museum Shop is stocked full of gifts for everyone. Choose art exploration kits and plush cuties for the younger set, or art prints, posters and jewelry for the more mature crowd.
Stop in at the Scott Joplin House State Historic Site, 2658A Delmar Blvd., for the annual Ragtime Christmas Party, planned for Dec. 8 this year. Its a packed house when musicians play all the rag favorites. Purchase a CD at the gift counter to make the memories last. Call in advance for ticket information (314-340-5790).
The annual Holiday Floral and Wreath Exhibit at the Missouri Botanical Garden, 4344 Shaw Blvd., is an excellent way to win inspiration for your own home. Renowned local floral artists show their holiday best. The theme for the 2001 Floral Show is Grandmas Toy Chest: Whirligigs and Jumping Jacks.
Gardeners and friends of gardeners will want to visit the Garden Gate Shop for books, plants, garden decor and tools.
The St. Louis Zoo in Forest Park may have one of the hottest gift shops in town. Perhaps an animal-shaped holiday ornament or a ladybug welcome mat fit the bill, or the tons of learning toys for children.
Families can join in the fun making gingerbread houses at Eckerts Country Store and Farms a few miles across the border in Belleville, Ill. Purchase easy-to-assemble kits or make reservations for a class. The store stocks specialty foods and lots of fresh-baked treats.
The Sheraton Clayton Plaza is an easy drive from many of St. Louis hottest holiday destinations. Stay for the convenience and linger to savor the restaurants in the surrounding neighborhood.
Let the wee ones burn off some energy at Science City at Union Station. Its a great place to purchase gifts that inspire learning. Wrap up your visit with a stop at the Hallmark Visitors Center across the pedestrian bridge and through Crown Center. Watch wrapping paper and card die cuts being made, and revisit all those Hallmark television favorites.
The odds of finding a unique gift for that jazz or baseball fan are excellent at the American Jazz Museum and Negro Leagues Baseball Museum stores. Be sure to allot some extra time to visit the exhibits.
The Toy and Miniature Museum is a wonderment for all ages. To be considered a "miniature" the scaled-down item must function, leading many to ask, Howd they do that? Dollhouse gifts wait in the museums shop.
Art lovers will love shopping at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art Holiday Shop, brimming with distinctive decorative gifts. Stay awhile and visit the gallery. The Nelson is undergoing extensive renovations, so visitors should call ahead for parking information.
Guests of Historic Suites of America will appreciate their spacious suites (for stashing all their goodies.) Located in a renovated red brick warehouse in the old garment district, Historic Suites will warm cold shoppers with its old-world charm.
Sally Snell is a contributor from Topeka, Kan.