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Thursday, December 11, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Gift shopping at the Pike Place Market is an adventure

Special to The Seattle Times

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Pike Place Market is in downtown Seattle, with the main entrance at First Avenue and Pike Street. Open daily year-round except for Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year's Day. Off-street parking can be found at 1531 Western Ave., connected to the Market's main arcade by elevator and pedestrian overpass. Parking is free for 60 minutes or less, and some merchants do validate. Get there before 9:30 a.m. and park all day for $5. More information: www.pikeplacemarket.org

Not that there's anything wrong with buying cologne for Dad or perfume for Mom, but how about holiday shopping that promises variety, good value and a festive, sometimes downright eccentric, atmosphere? Seattle's Pike Place Market offers homespun, exotic, one-of-a-kind stuff, plus, browsing this cornucopia makes shopping an adventure instead of a chore. With nine acres to cover, you'll need a strategy, so here's a suggested circuit:

Start at the south end of the Market — the arcade — and work your way north, beginning with Tenzing Momo, at the top of a short ramp behind DeLaurenti's market. Who can resist a shop with the translated name of "divine dumpling"? Tenzing, a Tibetan title, means illustrious or divine, and momo is a yak-filled dumpling, so says manager Erik Smith. Exotic as they come, this 30-year-old shop, which the proprietors call an apothecary, is both practical and profound. Pick up a 2004 calendar with an Eastern edge, from the Dalai Lama to the Kama Sutra.

Tenzing Momo also claims to have the largest selection in town of essential oils as well as vast rows of medicinal herbs. Their best idea? Give the gift of the Magi: nuggets of frankincense and myrrh, tree resin that when burned as incense gives off a deep, pungent aroma. One whiff and you, too, will see stars and angels.

The particulars: Tenzing Momo, 93 Pike St., open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday-Fridays, 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Saturdays; www.tenzingmomo.com or 206-623-9837.

Just past the flying fish and a little to the southwest thrives MarketSpice, in this location for more than 90 years. For such age it has a surprisingly young crowd behind the counter, including 20-something Aaron Fisher, who sports the Goth look: black hair, black shirt, multiple piercings. But rather than darkly brooding, he's cheerful, and knowledgeable about the inventory. When asked what makes MarketSpice special, he grins and says, "It rocks!"

If by that he means the store smells delicious thanks to the 50 coffees and 75 teas on hand, he's right. A favorite brew, MarketSpice tea with orange peel, cinnamon oil and cloves, is ordered by clients from all over the world. Try their gift bag that contains samples of MarketSpice tea and tea cookies. If nothing else, go for the free samples, always abundant this time of year.

The particulars: MarketSpice, 85A Pike Street, open Monday-Saturday 9 a.m.-6 p.m., Sundays 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; 206-622-6340 or 800-735-7198.

Drop down a floor to Hands of the World, a boutique of international offerings. When she opened the shop more than 20 years ago, owner Cynthia Hope traveled the globe half of every year seeking handcrafted folk art, jewelry and accessories. "But kids and a mortgage changed all that," she laughs. Those artisans still supply her with distinctive items.

One wall of her shop is devoted to scarves for men and women, "raw silk from Nepal to our old friend from the '60s, polyester," she says. Curiously, the polyester is the most versatile. She calls it the magic scarf, which is actually a fluffy tube. When morphed, the scarf becomes a hat, a shawl, a shoulder drape, even a (short) skirt.

"Christmas in the Market is special," Hope says of the holiday rush. "People are in a good mood. They're shopping for something unique for the ones they love. It's really fun."

The particulars: Hands of the World, 1501 Pike Place, No. 428, open daily 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; 206-622-1696.

Explore the Market's lower level or walk up a ramp to the north end. Up top find an abundance of local artists and farmers selling all things handmade or homegrown — food, pottery, jewelry, clothing, photographs. Canter-berry Farms of Auburn produces a variety of products from its own farm-grown blueberries. Best-seller during the holidays is a sampler pack: blueberry jam, blueberry syrup, blueberry chutney and blueberry vinegar — $28.95 delivered, less shipping and handling if you buy it at the Market.

The particulars: Canter-berry Farms, open weekends during Market hours; www.blueberries4u.com, 253-939-2706 or 800-548-8418.

The Market's several photography vendors are big with both tourists and locals. Gary Davis, a Pike Place regular for more than two decades, sells photos of Northwest landscapes, with prices ranging from $16 to $500. He eschews photo labs, developing all images himself, with no digital manipulation. His most popular shot: the well-known Heceta Head lighthouse in Oregon that overlooks craggy cliffs and frothy ocean. Many of the photos are familiar and beautiful, views we're lucky enough to see just leaning out our car windows.

The particulars: Gary Davis Photography, open during Market hours; www.geocities.com/garydavisphoto or 206-285-5762.

Poke your head into Post Alley for small shops and restaurants including the Glass Eye Gallery. A sign politely warns parents to keep tabs on kids, but watch your own elbows. At the center of this sparkling place, a tree adorned with dozens of glass Christmas ornaments shimmers, each decoration going for about $20. Check out a display of tiny glass critters — ducks, snails, frogs and fish for around $4. According to its Web site, the gallery includes work produced at the Glass Eye Studio in Fremont, "containing Mount St. Helens ash as a signature ingredient."

The particulars: Glass Eye Gallery, 1902 Post Alley, www.gegallery.com, 206-441-3221 or 877-623-7840. Open during Market hours.

When you can't face one more fabulous gift-buying opportunity, go eat. Plenty to choose from. One of our favorites: Turkish Delight, opposite Victor Steinbrueck Park, is a mom-and-pop restaurant with pretty views of the water. For under $10, try aromatic, mouthwatering chicken or vegetarian tala (like a momo minus the yak) followed by homemade baklava, or genuine Turkish Delight (think Aplets and Cotlets but not as sweet). Then, for a shot of much-needed joe, try Market newcomer Local Color, 1606 Pike Place, a coffee house/art gallery with a working studio in the back. This Saturday, listen to holiday music by jazz pianist Ryan Shea Smith from noon to 3 p.m.

Thus refreshed, wade back into the Market for more, proud of your panache. As they say at Tenzing Momo, "if shopping here was easy, anyone could do it!"

Connie McDougall is a free-lance writer who lives in Seattle.

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company

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