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Pugs, pipes and plate armor 

Even Amazon can't offer the oddities and awesomeness you can find among 10 unsung Springs shops

Since 1980, our fair city has added more centerline miles to our roadway system than exist in all of Pueblo. That's a lot of road. So you're forgiven if you've somehow missed a couple of the 10 independent retailers featured here while commuting about.

But as you look around for local shopping options this holiday season, consider swinging by a few of these places for a visit. Whether more into venison or vacuums, your gift-list beneficiaries wouldn't want it any other way.

Not the meat market your mother warned you about

Andy's Meat Market, 2915 E. Platte Ave., 636-1149, andysmeatmarket.com

For: Bubba from Forrest Gump ("Sirloin steak, round steak, T-bone steak, rib steak ...")

With apologies to Mary Schmich, a word of advice: Buy meat. If I could offer you only one shopping tip for the season, meat would be it. The rest of the things you could gift aren't nearly as tasty when bacon-wrapped.

But surely there are other choices, you say. The new Bear in Heaven LP or Real Estate's Real Estate? The interactive Glo Bible or Veggie Tales' latest joint? Zhu Zhu Pets' manic hamster or the newest Webkinz pet? Assassin's Creed 2 or Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2? Going Rogue or Going Rouge? To each, one word:

No.

Meat is the answer. It's practically the reason for the season — though we all know that the season really exists (1) to give us another excuse to watch A Christmas Story and (2) because of the tilt of the planet. My family has been gifting each other with loin chops and T-bone steaks ever since I could say "rump roast," and we get it all from Andy's Meat Market.

On a busy stretch of Platte Avenue sits the red-white-and-blue-decorated shop started by Andrew Aibner in 1952. Operated now by his son Bob Aibner, Andy's is hog-heaven on Earth. First thing you see when you step through the door is feet and feet of meat: Colorado-raised beef, Red Bird Farms chicken, sausage made in-house and pounds of pork products.

Though there are other games in town, Bob says Andy's is the only one that offers it all: wild game-processing; smoking and curing of ham, bacon, fish and turkeys; and a retail storefront offering every cut and kind of carnal comestible.

If it all sounds a little overwhelming, fear not.

"It's like going to the transmission shop," Bob says. "You don't have a clue how that transmission works, you just have to trust the guy doing the work for you. People don't understand how the cuts of meat work, so we explain that to them."

If your giftee needs 50 pounds of protein, get the Freezer Filler ($149.95). If he or she would be happy just to taste the magic, go for the 12-pound Sample Pack ($36). Just looking for a stocking stuffer? Bob says that buffalo and beef jerky is flying off the shelf.

OK, but what about dinner? Andy's will see your usual turkey and raise you a prime rib. Not a red-meat person? Try smoked duck, goose, pheasant or quail. Can't decide? One word: turducken.

Lastly, if handling dead animals isn't your thing, get a gift certificate. It's the least you can do for those rapacious carnivores known as in-laws.

I am the ghost, deity or Catholic saint of Christmas presents

Botánica Caridad del Cobre, 415 N. Circle Drive, 634-4783

For: the person who has everything except a statue of Santa Muerte

I've heard it a thousand times: "I don't practice Santeria, I ain't got no crystal ball ..."

Reasons abound for why people live absent religious fervor and melted-sand accoutrements. But if all you lack is knowledge — on where to find fine religious and natural health alternatives — then read on, dear friend, because I, too, was once a seeker like you.

When I found six-year-old Botánica Caridad del Cobre (Our Lady of Charity) in a small strip mall, I saw — nay, felt — the outer windows speaking to me. They told of a place offering articulos religiosos, amuletos, aceites and species. (The other window, surely aimed at gringos like me, confirmed that here I would find religious articles, good luck charms, spices and oils.)

Upon entering, I was overwhelmed by the mesh of scents in the air. A riot of colorful candles, boxes of incense and powders lined three walls. Statues of the Virgin Mary, Buddha, various Catholic saints, icons of Santeria, baby Jesus and pugs — those most beloved creatures of all — covered the glass counter tops.

All this and more is common to a botánica, a store often seen in Latin American countries and American cities with large Latino populations. Co-owner and Denver native Carlos Ramirez, whose family opened the main Caridad del Cobre store in Denver 23 years ago, says he imports more than 90 percent of his products directly from Mexico.

Ramirez has a ready smile, but is all business when helping a customer find some extra luck for a weekend trip to Cripple Creek. He recommends prayer scrolls from either St. Martin or St. Peter: "Both are good for luck or love."

Asked if people mostly come to him for similar reasons, he says it's something else.

"They want to be more spiritual," he says. "It's people looking ... to be more aware of the spiritual life."

Ramirez can help with dozens of herbs and wide selections of incense, candles, bath salts, statues, prayer books and charms, plus other natural treatments for bodily ailments. For example, he mentions a sage and rosemary bath that he takes to lower his stress levels before long trips, and shows me a packet of herbs that helps people kick sleeping-pill addictions.

What does he recommend to a holiday shopper?

"I never try to push anything over on a client," Ramirez says. "They usually take a look and ask me, 'What's good for this and this?' and I give them my recommendation to do this and this."

My recommendation: Get the pug. Nothing says, "I love you no matter what" like that smashed little porcelain face.

This place is for the calling birds, French hens and turtledoves

This Place is for the Birds, 2318 Palmer Park Blvd., 633-4422

For: your winged, bipedal best friend, and his or her pet

Here's how owner Ron Perry describes his store: "We're basically a wild foods store and we carry ... feeders, bird houses, just almost everything."

And of course he's right. But if This Place is for the Birds is just a wild foods store, then the eight pounds of ham I ate at Thanksgiving was my evening snack.

Perry does carry birdseed, but it comes directly from Colorado farmers, with whom he deals personally. It's then brought back to his store, hand-mixed in amounts up to 6,000 pounds per day using Perry's own recipes, and distributed in up-to-50-pound bags.

And there certainly are birdhouses to be found, most bigger than my apartment. They hang from the ceiling, sit stacked on tables, and generally poke out everywhere. But they represent such an eclectic mix of colors, shapes and materials — one's made from an old boot — that it'd be more apt to call the houses artwork that birds happen to live in.

Finding Perry's hidden gem is not exactly an adventure, but you'll want to wear your glasses. Driving down Palmer Park Boulevard yields its traditional spread of roofs, fences and lawns until you hit a break in the scenery; as you look into it, a wagon in the middle of the path, and an old farm truck parked on the side of the road, provide your only signposts.

Across from Perry's house lies the store, a 100-year-old barn. Inside, the main room feels like a physical paean to the unpredictability and deliberate chaos of natural life. Large bins of birdseed, with names like black oil sunflower seed, are located in the middle of the main room, while the seed itself is measured out on an ancient iron scale. Around the room, I spot three different types of heated bird baths (I can neither confirm nor deny the inclusion of Jacuzzi jets), books on gardening, bird feeding and watching, garden statuary and accents, fountains, greeting cards, candles, hanging wind chimes in every shape, prints by John James Audubon, and an ancient-looking case holding taxidermied Colorado birds.

Also of note at this time of year: Christmas trees. Perry's continuing his 10-year tradition of offering trees for $19.95 and $21.95 during the holiday season. House, holly or hardwood, he keeps his eye on the sparrow.

Another seven stores worth a visit for Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa ...

Jackie's Bead Boutique, 207 W. Rockrimmon Blvd., Suite F, 599-3800

Visit: to find out what the heck a topaz-and-glass bead sporting a rainbow aurora borealis finish looks like.

When you walk into Jackie's Bead Boutique, you'd be forgiven for thinking you had accidentally (and, let's face it, awesomely) stumbled into a candy shop. Strings of beads rocking the rock-candy look hang from one wall. One shelf holds melted Jolly Ranchers ... wait, no, those are glass pieces. In the corner, a rack of tubes holds sugar-crystal-looking beads.

I thought of trying to eat something, but I got the feeling that that type of bead shopping was discouraged. Seems the best way to experience the boutique is with one of owner Jackie Davidson's own beginner classes: $45 gets you materials for two bracelets, a pair of earrings and some serious learnin'.

Old West Cigar & Tobacco Company, 229 E. Pikes Peak Ave., 635-0211, smokeme.com

Because: nothing says Feliz Navidad like a $43 cigar.

The lure of smoking can be tied to the ritual involved. For cigars, it's the precise cutting of the end, the slow lighting process, and the languid enjoyment afterward; for pipes, the cleaning out and filling up, then reconnecting with an old cherry-flavored friend.

In addition to smoking hardware and tobacco, Old West Cigar & Tobacco Co. sells these experiences. Wood-paneled walls and opposing brown leather couches fill a room made to smoke in, which someone was happily doing while I visited. Racks of pipes hang from the wall, all with their own individual character; some go as high as $750, though the average is $60 to $80. Across the room, a walk-in humidor holds more than 100 cigars, generally ranging from $7 to $11.

Old West has the rest covered, too: gift certificates, cigar boxes, home humidors, cutters, lighters, premium cigarettes and even nasal snuff. (That's powdered tobacco. eHow.com recommends you inhale it, blow your nose if so inclined, and inhale it again, in a vicious — and apparently delightful — cycle.)

Laura Lee's Teas, 2367 N. Academy Blvd., 634-5922, lauraleesteas.com

Enjoy: one of the largest collections of loose-leaf teas in the city.

Located in a little shopping center near Maizeland Road and Academy Boulevard, Laura Lee's Teas is a delightful blend of form and function. The entire left wall is filled with containers holding loose-leaf teas like China Black, Izu Matcha, Kyoto Cherry Rose or Baroness Grey. Prices vary, but will generally cost you $10 for a half pound.

If taking tea home isn't your bag, then the four dining tables attest to its availability in-store, in addition to some lunch options. For darker brew, Laura Lee's also offers coffee beans, some organic and fair-trade, generally ranging between $13 and $18 per pound. Lastly, look for a variety of loose spices, tea pots and sets, coffee mugs, various brewing devices and Christmas gift baskets.

Ghillies Hackle & Tackle Fly Shop, 3314 Austin Bluffs Pkwy., 531-5413, ghilliesflyshop.com

Buy: a class or two for your morose fisherman friend.

Ghillies Hackle & Tackle, the scene of bustling fishing trip meet-ups in spring, feels fishermen's pain in the off-season, so it offers the perfect downtime activity: tying fishing lures.

Besides a comprehensive offering of waders, vests, hats and lures, Ghillies sells all the clamps, tools, feathers and body styles one would need to build a bug. Additionally, a free lesson on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon is complemented by bi-weekly classes promising to teach you all about working with foam flies, or tying midges, Copper Johns, or — in a two-part series — flies for fishing the South Platte River.

Hawg's Custom Cycles, 4325 N. Nevada Ave., 577-9355, hawgscustomcycles.com

For: that potential giftee with an old-project bike laying around the garage, looking for a little love.

Hawg's is in a brick-red building on North Nevada Avenue next to the (unaffiliated) Blue Iguana Tavern. Head through the arched doorways and down a couple steps to enter a showroom full of their creations, one of which looks exactly like a metallic purple, 1960 Cadillac on two wheels. Beautiful.

Whether you're seeking customizable chrome or sissy bars, restorations or routine maintenance, this is the place you want to take your American-made V-Twin bike, because it's all Hawg's does. If you can't sneak the intended motorcycle out of the garage for a holiday tune-up, go with a gift certificate — with over 35 years of experience between owners Bryan Clymens and Thomas Knight, it's a smooth move either way.

East Library, 5550 N. Union Blvd., and Penrose Library, 20 N. Cascade Ave.; 531-6333, ppld.org

For: searchers of old, obscure or out-of-print novels for cheap.

Friends of the Pikes Peak Library District is a 54-year-old organization created to advocate for, and financially support, the library district. Most of their work is done behind the scenes, except for some notable exceptions: the bookstores. Each branch of the PPLD offers some discount books for sale, but the two biggest stores are inside the East and Penrose libraries.

Books generally range from 75 cents to $10, with magazines, records, VHS, DVDs and CDs all available. It's an easy way to find a present on the cheap, but if you're more of the donating type, you can bring in any unwanted media and gift it to the library for somebody else to find later.

Vacuums and Dragons, 5643 N. Academy Blvd., 575-9926

For: anyone who's ever thought, "I need a battle axe" while cleaning the living room.

On North Academy Boulevard, across from Woodley's Fine Furniture, lies the answer to the age-old problem that has, at one time or another, plagued us all: Where can you get your vacuum serviced, buy bags, attachments and replacement parts, while at the same time maintaining your World of Warcraft street cred?

That answer is Vacuums and Dragons. It's a magical place where you'll find gargoyle statues, carpet shampoo, decorative knives, all-purpose cleaner and degreaser, brass cannon replicas and fantasy novels all on the same shelf. Other parts of the store show off antique muskets, four-foot claymores, Dyson vacuums, crossbows, katanas, vacuum bags and hoses, plate armor and a Kalashnikov rifle.

Clearly, your gift list will be more than a little bit overmatched.

bryce@csindy.com

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