If you are not fond of chain stores, cavernous malls and large crowds...the north Georgia mountains can provide some refreshing alternatives. I live in the north metro Atlanta area and have been doing 90% of my shopping in the mountains for years now. I find some great gifts while enjoying some fantastic scenery and a much more laid back atmosphere than I did fighting mall traffic in the past.
What surprises most people about mountain shopping is the incredible variety of unique gifts. Some of my favorites are the hand carved wooden bowls at Turning Leaf Wood Art in downtown Blue Ridge, and mosaic pottery at Fishbone just a block off the square...the unique jewelry and myriad of unusual items at Shapiro's in Sautee Nacoochee..the potters that dot scenic Hwy 197 in the Batesville-Lake Burton area..I could go on and on, but I think you will enjoy exploring on your own and finding things that suit your tastes much like I have over the years.
Christmas is a great time for shopping in the mountains. Many retailers mark down items for the holiday season. This is the "off" season in the mountains, yet many small retailers depend on this time of year for the bulk of their winter business. It is not unusual for shops to offer their wares at 40-50% discounts compared to summer prices. Dealers in the antique and craft malls are generally more than willing to negotiate to get a sale-don't be afraid to make an offer on something you want, there is usually a middle ground that will leave you both happy. Try doing that at Macy's! I've found that friends and relatives love gifts of food from the mountains...Apple products from Ellijay, Fudge from Helen and Dahlonega, and jams, jellies and honey from shops all over the area have been big hits as gifts. A "must stop" for me every year is Nora Mills Granary just south of Helen to get some of their great products for friends and myself!
My best advice is to make any trip to the mountains more than just a shopping trip. There are great little restaurants and cafes in all the downtown square areas-try Grapes and Beans in Clayton or the Corkscrew Cafe in Dahlonega. Check out the historical old courthouses in the squares all decked out with Christmas decorations. In Helen you can even use a horse drawn carriage for transportation. Make a relaxing day of it and you may just swear off the malls just like I have!
Contributed by Jenny McIntire-Hoschton, GA