Looking for a special Iowa-made gift? We’re here with inspiration from fellow Iowans, who told us their favorite local places to shop at the holidays. As a bonus, we’ve added the causes those businesses support—so you can see how your gift goes further than anything you can buy on a big box site.
Follow the crowd
Historic Valley Junction, with its myriad of storefronts, was a favorite. Ditto Sioux City Gifts and the Amana Colonies. And we were surprised at how many people mentioned the welcome centers near you, which (depending on your town) might be some of the best places to snag locally made goods! Check out that full list (and add to it) here.
Want to buy a gift card, but don’t know where to start? Iowans have you covered:
- For bookworms: Iowans’ favorite independent bookstores;
- For your sauciest relatives: one of these Iowa BBQ restaurants;
- For those with a sweet tooth: Iowans’ favorite ice cream parlors;
- For the beer snob: the best Iowa breweries. (And if you’re looking for a place to unwind after Thanksgiving dinner, how about an iconic dive bar?)
Everyone wants top value for their dollar, and there are several Iowa businesses who support causes close to your own heart. Make your money follow your values by spending it in one of these places:
Blk & Bold – Des Moines
Known for: Coffee and tea that gives back to youth programs
Iowa’s fastest-growing business was started by two friends who loved coffee as much as they love helping their community. They grew quickly, bolstered by online orders during the pandemic, and now have partnerships with the “Black Panther” franchise as well as the NBA. Five percent of their profits goes directly to nonprofits across the country working with young people, including the By Degrees Foundation in Des Moines.
Values: Black-owned business, charitable giving, B Corp
The Plant Dealer – Newton
Known for: Customizable houseplant subscription boxes
If you know someone who wants to build out a rare or unique houseplant collection, The Plant Dealer will ship them live plants from April through November of 2024. Don’t want to spring for a full year’s subscription? The company says they’ll start offering individual plant boxes for as low as $35 each in 2024.
Values: Woman-owned, BIPOC-owned, deaf-owned
RAYGUN – Ames/Cedar Falls/Cedar Rapids/Davenport/Des Moines/Iowa City
Known for: Snarky and relevant t-shirts
RAYGUN holds the claim to being the largest unionized clothing chain in the US, and every step in the process of creating garments and other merchandise is detailed on their website. The company also gives between 15% and 30% of their profits to a variety of progressive Midwestern organizations. (And, oh yeah, they also make our Starting Line merch!)
Values: Union workplace, sweatshop-free, charitable giving
Great River Maple – Garnavillo
Known for: Specialty maple syrup, on its own or infused with different flavors, from the trees on their own property. (You can even schedule a tour of the woods!)
I first tried Great River Maple at their booth at this year’s Iowa State Fair, and loved the intriguing flavor profiles of this syrup. (One even includes the Carolina reaper pepper!) The company makes sampler and gift boxes along with pancake mix, cotton candy and maple cream.
Values: Organic, farm-to-table
Back Together Massage – Iowa City
Known for: Consent-based and trauma-informed massages
Jaime Nevins is a licensed massage therapist who also has sexual assault advocacy training, as well as experience working in health care clinics with feminist ideals, as well as with transgender clients. Nevins also founded TransVerse, a support group for trans people and their allies in Iowa City.
Spark Lot – Waterloo
Known for: Reseller with products from 50+ small local businesses
#ShopLocal and #ShopSmall are owner Nia Wilder’s goals for her business, begun in 2021. Because of that, the store carries a wide variety of products, including clothing, jewelry, makeup, hair care, candles, snacks and more. Wilder is also a Waterloo City Council member and professional photographer who is behind Starting Line’s popular People of Waterloo video series.
Values: Black-owned, LGBTQ-owned, Woman-owned
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