Anyone putting together a holiday list will quickly think of the mall, or Amazon, or any of a bazillion specialty online retailers.
But what about finding the unexpected? A surprise gift someone would never expect? Try some out-of-the-way unique spots to find the right gift.
With one of the biggest shopping days of the year just around the corner, we've started a "Countdown to Black Friday." Everyday, you'll find five helpful tips on a topic related to Black Friday on TBO.com, from top toys to electronics buying guidelines to suiting up for battle on the big day.
Today, we present five stores you can't pass up for that one-of-a-kind item. Some will surprise you, some may repulse you. But we found some gems along the aisles and on the shelves of these unique stores.
Best part: you don't have to wait until Black Friday for great deals.
1. Tampa Museum of Art store: For the artsy person on your holiday list, go to the Tampa Museum of Art gift shop. Though definitely a micro-store compared to museums in New York or Los Angeles, this nifty little spot has loads of unusual items like a clutch purse made entirely of aluminum can tabs, $45, a picture frame made of computer keys, $29, an iconic "Keep Calm and Carry On" mug, $11 and "Yum Bots," neat little robot cupcake molds, $19.
Address: Ashley Drive and Polk Street in downtown Tampa.
2. HSN Outlet store: For anything that doesn't sell out on air, there's the HSN Outlet Stores.
Discounts are based on when the item was last broadcast, ascending from 25 to 70-percent off. For instance, all these items are now 70-percent off: A color Barnes & Noble Nook originally $299, Todd English saucepans originally $30, DeLonghi countertop fryer originally $100, Serena Williams cotton robe originally $60 and Joy Mangano leather tote originally $95.
Address: Brandon, 225 West Brandon Blvd., Largo, 10801 Starkey Rd.
3. Pawn shops: Don't go here to buy glamour, go for the discounts.
Pawn stores around town lately are stuffed with inventory, with items generally half off the original retail price. For instance: DVDs for a few bucks, a Wii console for $89 and handsets for $14, a Porter Cable tool air compressor for $69 and Epson overhead projector for $89.
Fair warning, there may be no assurance of their provenance or warranty, and check current retail prices in advance.
A local ValuePawn had a 55-inch Vizio LED HDTV (1080p/120Hz) for $999, but posted an outdated price at Walmart of $1,399 when Walmart.com now sells the same TV new for $999.
4. Salvation Army: Always trusted for a good deal, Salvation Army stores have become huge retail outlets.
The location in Brandon, for instance, had a set of Baker's heels for $12.99 (normally $50 to $150), Bebe white leather pants, $20, (selling on eBay for $35) froggy-print baby sleeper for 99 cents and a 5-foot-tall dollhouse for $49.99.
Location: A half-dozen locations around Tampa Bay, see SalvationArmy.org.
5. Learning Express: When big toy stores feel like a hangar full of plastic junk covered in cartoon characters, you need a different toy store. Learning Express runs far smaller stores, stuffed with higher-quality toys that foster creativity and learning.
They started as an offshoot of the Groton Community School in Connecticut and now run shops across the country.
Some samples we found: the Design & Drill Center where kids use a small drill to create patterns in bolts (similar to a Lite-Brite), $39.99; the Hot Dots Jr. smart pen set for ages 4+ where kids chose answers to questions and a smart pen glows and laughs with the correct answers, $12.99; and the Candy Creator Lab Kit to make your own candies, $34.99.
Check back everyday on TBO.com over the next two weeks to follow our "Countdown to Black Friday" features. Tomorrow we offer the best places to find deals on tech gadgets and electronics.