Ellen Lohse of Buffalo doesn't have time to shop for Christmas gifts at store after store, 'Dale upon 'Dale. Instead, she does a quick in and out, flitting from kiosk to kiosk.
"It's my shopping strategy," she said, stopping briefly last week at the Crocs kiosk at Ridgedale before moving on to the See's Candies kiosk nearby.
And it's a good strategy for procrastinators who don't have the time or stamina for holiday shopping but still want distinctive gifts. So to help out those shoppers, I hunted down some interesting, last-minute gifts at kiosks in the halls of six Twin Cities malls -- Burnsville Center, Mall of America in Bloomington, Maplewood Mall, Rosedale in Roseville, Ridgedale in Minnetonka and Southdale in Edina. I went in search of the unique and popular -- but not too popular. Everyone knows Hickory Farms, for example, so it's not exactly a novel choice.
The upside of cruising kiosks is hassle-free shopping. The downside is making returns.
Even if you're not anticipating a return or a defect, ask for contact information and return policies, which are strict at most kiosks. At Cake Towels in Mall of America, for example, exchanges are allowed up to three days after the sale, but there are no refunds.
Remember that many kiosks are seasonal and might not be around after Christmas. If that remote-controlled helicopter you gave as a gift is floating silently in the eggnog bowl by 10 a.m. Christmas Day, you'll feel better knowing that you got a phone number and an e-mail address when you bought it.
My Pillow Pets (all six malls, as well as Walgreens and Sears, www.mypillowpets.com): These cute, plush animals (ladybug, unicorn, moose and others) easily fold into a pillow. Most malls charge about $25 (but Sears and Walgreens sell them for $20).
See's Candies (Southdale, Rosedale, Ridgedale and Mall of America; check mall directories): Every employee at See's that I talked to was as sweet as the candy. It was as if my grandmother was personally making sure that I'd find the right gift. The prices are reasonable ($6 to $16) for Toffee-Ettes, Nuts & Chews, peanut brittle and lollipops. I sampled the Toffee-Ettes and one of the chocolates and was not disappointed.
Mahogany Carvings (Southdale, first level by Victoria's Secret): This one-of-a-kind kiosk sells hand-carved "toys" for adults, including helicopters, tractors, golf carts, fire trucks, World War II fighter planes and cannons. Made in Vietnam, the wares are reasonably priced for the workmanship, $20 to $80 each.
Edina Athletic Boosters (Southdale, second level by Ben Bridge Jewelers): A nice convenience for Edina residents, it serves as an opportunity for mischief for non-residents who don't make the grade. Think of it as a passive-aggressive gift for, say, a Blaine resident. ("What am I going to do with a T-shirt with 'Edina' spelled out in sparkly letters?") Offerings include T-shirts, sweatshirts, scarves, headbands and boxers.
Tamara's (Rosedale, lower level by Macy's): Tamara Olson of Princeton, Minn., sells vintage-inspired, handmade, boiled-wool mittens lined with fleece ($54), as well as table runners ($18 to $30), scarves ($28), slippers ($36) and aprons ($32). All of the designs are her own.
Brookstone (Rosedale, Southdale, Burnsville Center): For those who want to give the gift of remote-controlled chaos, you can hardly go wrong with mini-helicopters, a popular item at kiosks. The Brookstone U Control Indoor Bullet helicopter is $30, or two for $50. They're durable, but get the protection plan for $4 extra (per copter). If anything goes wrong within the first year, the item is replaced. Other kiosks sell similar models with a gyroscope for better control, but they also cost more, $50 to $75. Ask about repairs when it crashes -- and it will. Note: The Brookstone model requires six AA batteries, not included.
Equalizer Shirts (Mall of America, first level by H&M, www.tqualizer.com): Activated by sound, these T-shirts ($36) light up on the front to resemble a graphic equalizer on a stereo component. Designs include sunglasses, boombox and the Superman logo. Dry-clean only.
Cake Towels (Mall of America, third level by FYE Music and Movies): Small kitchen and bath towels look pretty enough to eat. The "desserts" for $5 to $11 resemble decorated cakes and parfaits, but they're actually small dish, hand or face towels. The brilliant packaging coup makes a great hostess gift -- until it's unfolded. Then it's just a towel.
Wild Wings Collection (Ridgedale, first level in center court): Night lights, sculpted mugs and hang-up hooks come in the shape of a bald eagle, wolf, duck, loon, deer, moose, turkey, pig, squirrel and horse for $16 to $32.
Tupperware (Burnsville Center, first level by Sears): This is one of the few places to buy Tupperware outside of a party, now that Target has quit carrying it. Popular sellers include Vent 'n Serve containers ($43 for a set of three) and soup mugs ($12).