Food: It's a near-ideal gift, if you choose wisely and so long as you avoid ordering from those catalogs that hawk breads and cheeses boxed to look like a stack of presents. That's tacky. Try a gift card to Mazzaro's Italian Market in St. Petersburg. It's the closest thing to the Disney World of Italian food we have around these parts. I can't move two feet in that store without wanting to stuff the contents of the nearest shelf into my mouth. Marinated olives and artichoke hearts, cheeses, cannoli, sopressata -- it's all good.
Chocolate: OK, it's technically food, but the cocoa bean's delicious offspring deserves its own entry. Everyone loves chocolate, and assuming your giftee isn't allergic to it, the Godiva Chocolatier at [image-1]
Booze: If you know your friend's poison (beer, wine, liqueur, the hard stuff) this should be an easy shop. Best part about giving an adult beverage for the holidays: You'll likely be offered some (especially if you don't produce the wrapped box until later in the day). As for me, I'll be more than willing to share any tasty cabernet or zinfandel that comes my way. And yes, Wade, you can expect a bottle of chardonnay.
Music: This can be tricky, as you run the risk of getting that special someone a CD they already have or tunes that he or she may not like. Mix tapes are good if you're fairly certain about their taste in music, and aren't all that time-consuming to put together, plus they add a personal touch that says, "I care. Kinda. Sorta."
Concert, theater or sporting-event tickets: Is it really better to give than receive? Probably, but why not do both and plunk down a few days' worth of pay for two seats to the '70s Soul Jam at Ruth Eckerd Hall in January? Just sayin'.
Gift cards: OK, maybe they're a bit of a cop-out, but if you're pressed for time, you can at least entertain the option. Movie lovers either get a pass to area theaters or a gift card to pick up the DVD of their choice; eggheads get a few bucks to shop at a bookstore; happy homemakers a mini shopping spree at a housewares store. Heck, you can get a gift card to virtually anything these days, from restaurants to cigar shops.
Utilitarian or decorative art: Check out the online events listings at Creative Loafing and then head to a local crafts show, such as Art in the Park or Craft Art 2008, and pick up a one-of-a-kind ashtray, fruit bowl or coffee mug, etc.
Think outside the box: You can always get your friend a gift tailored to his or her interests, though this strategy usually isn't good for last-minute shopping. For instance, I'm a huge Beatles fan and have received a near-complete set of Beatles trading cards and an early Beatles 45 as past gifts. Know someone whose always stressed out? Give them the gift of massage from an area spa, such as Balance & Bliss in St. Petersburg.