I realized recently that my kids don’t know what it’s like to go shopping. They know Target, of course, and ordering from Amazon. But they don’t know the languid boredom of following your mother through several stores, or the thrill of slipping into a rack of dresses and peeping out at shoppers between the sleeves.

They certainly don’t know the deep pleasure of ducking into a series of cute shops, a paper cup of cocoa in hand. You traipse along a quaint sidewalk, bags swinging from your arm, like a Hallmark heroine rediscovering the charms of her hometown.

Downtown Bel Air would be a great place to introduce the kids to the pleasure of shopping in brick-and-mortar stores. There is an actual Main Street, like in a Frank Capra movie, and it is lined with interesting locally owned shops.

The sidewalks are wide, and drivers stop for pedestrians at crosswalks. It’s like Hampden without all the Hampden.

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A Maileg mouse at The Nest on Main in Bel Air.
Julie Scharper/The Baltimore Banner

The Nest on Main

Start your holiday shopping at The Nest, a space as warm and cozy as the name implies. There are paintings by local artists (prices vary) and mugs emblazoned with lines from classic songs ($20). (My favorite quotes Gloria Gaynor: “I will survive.” A good thought as you drink your first coffee of the day.) The Nest is also stocked with great gifts for kids, including a series of adorable Danish-made mice ($33 and up) whose oversized boxes double as beds.

110 S. Main St., Bel Air

Cozy and comfortable fur-lined Olukai slippers from Stalefish Board Company.
(Courtesy photo)

Stalefish Board Company

I recently saw a group of high school girls who were wearing nearly identical gray sweatpants and fur-lined brown slippers. ”They’re all dressed like grandpas!” I told my husband. Turns out they were wearing Nohea slippers from Olukai ($130), which are super comfy and warm and very fashionable right now. You can find them, and all sorts of other cozy and hip clothes at Stalefish Board Company, which feels like a slice of Maui tucked into a Main Street storefront. Check out Stalefish’s own line of clothing, including a slate blue men’s corduroy jacket ($90) and Nomadic festival blankets in fun prints ($70).

100 N. Main St., Bel Air

A Bionic Woman action figure from Collectors Corner on Main Street in Bel Air.
Julie Scharper/The Baltimore Banner

Collectors Corner

Do we spend enough time contemplating The Bionic Woman? I would say no. That can be easily rectified by purchasing a Jaime Sommers action figure ($24.99) and Fembot action figure ($24.99) and re-enacting a classic battle between everyone’s favorite female ’70s cyborg and her robot foes. Collectors Corner is stocked with dozens of action figures, comic books and manga, including “My Cat is Such a Weirdo” ($15.99), a title that will resonate with any cat owner. While you’re there, pick up a bag of Japanese Kit-Kats ($12.99) in intriguing flavors such as matcha latte and banana caramel.

17 N. Main St., Bel Air

Children learn the basics of cooking at Young Chefs Academy in Bel Air.
(Courtesy photo)

Young Chefs Academy

If you have kids, chances are they have too much stuff. Perhaps this year, rather than arming them with more Legos to scatter across the floor, you’d like to give them an experience. Young Chefs Academy, located a few blocks off Main Street, offers KinderCooks classes for children as young as 4, Junior Chefs for those 7+ and Senior Chefs for 12+ ($40 for non-members). Or sign up little Aiden and Olivia for workshops on topics such as farm-to-table cooking and holiday cooking decorating ($45). Now it’s time to make Mommy brunch, kids!

130 N. Bond St. # 101

Find a little treat for yourself, like this cozy sweater, at Apricot Lane Boutique on Main Street in Bel Air.
(Courtesy photo)

Apricot Lane Boutique

Remember the Saturday Night Live skit from a few years back where the members of a family show off their Christmas gifts? The dad and kids hold up one thoughtful gift after another while mom gets ... a robe. Just a robe. If you’re a mom, you know it’s gonna happen. You put in weeks and weeks creating a wonderful holiday experience for your family, but you’re lucky if you get a pair of socks. Head off the holiday disappointment by taking yourself shopping at Apricot Lane. Pick up a chunky knitted white sweater ($128), stylish earrings from erin gray ($29-$96) or a sleek handbag (prices vary).

105 N. Main St., Bel Air

A holiday window display at Full Heart Soulutions on Main Street in Bel Air.
(Courtesy photo)

Full Heart Soulutions

Is there anything more fun than shopping for your best friends? Unlike your kids, you know they’ll really appreciate what you give them. Full Heart Soulutions, which features fair-trade and handcrafted objects, is the perfect spot to find gifts for your besties. Check out ultra light Yak hoodies emblazoned with mushrooms for your mycology mamas ($49.99), fingerless wool gloves from ZigZag ($32.99) and locally made candles from Milkbarn in scents such as Fresh Cut Christmas Tree, Peppermint Twist or Cinnamon Donut ($22.99 to 27.99).

107 S. Main St., Bel Air

Strahhhberry Incredibles edibles from Rise Dispensary in Joppa.
(Courtesy photo)

Rise Dispensary, Joppa

Passé: Giving bottles of wine as a hostess gift. Classé: Giving a bag of edibles. Celebrate that we now have legal recreational cannabis for adults in Maryland. After all that shopping, pick up some holiday greenery for your buds or yourself at Rise Dispensary in Joppa. I recommend the Strahhhberry edibles ($25 for a bag of 10) to make yet another night of folding laundry a little more exciting, or a low dose Nano edible from Hicolor in concord grape ($20 for a bag of 20) to make those holiday lights twinkle a little more brightly.

702 Pulaski Highway, Joppatowne

🎁 Looking for more gift ideas?

🎁 8 places to shop for holiday gifts in Baltimore City

🎁 9 great gift ideas to buy in Baltimore County

🎁 8 places to buy gifts for the holidays in Anne Arundel County

🎁 8 places to shop for holiday gifts in Howard County

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🎁 7 places to shop for the holidays in Sykesville and Carroll County


Julie Scharper is an enterprise reporter for The Baltimore Banner. Her work ranges from investigations into allegations of sexual harassment and abuse to light-hearted features. Baltimore Magazine awarded Scharper a Best in Baltimore in 2023 for her series exposing a toxic work culture within the Maryland Park Service.

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