by Ruth Paarmann
Before you even think about busting through mall crowds, take a trip to Cedar Rapids’ Czech Village. The area runs from the 16th Avenue bridge to C Avenue SW, just west of the Cedar River.
The neighborhood offers a national museum and a row of lovely locally owned shops. Supporting these local shop owners is important to me, and each fall, I look there for items to fulfill my holiday gift list.
One of the highlights for me is Czech Cottage, where gifts of glass and jewelry line the shelves. The shop owners travel to Europe to select items for sale, so the merchandise is quite unique. It’s a great place for gifts for moms and newlyweds like cut-crystal vases. I’ve also found adorable little glass animals which make surprisingly good, but inexpensive, gifts for friends.
At Christmastime, the gift shop at the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library brims with spectacular blown-glass ornaments, cookbooks, souvenirs and more. Located next to a clock tower, the museum itself offers excellent special exhibits and an informative permanent exhibit about Czech and Slovak history. It’s one of Cedar Rapids’ best cultural stops.
I always try to visit the Saddle & Leather Shop, too. The store has changed little since my days as a young rider to buy saddles, bridles and Western wear. It’s still a clean, early-1900s vintage shop run by the Barta sisters. I go there for boots as needed for my time volunteering at the therapeutic equestrian center, Miracles in Motion. Enjoy the aroma of leather while you browse clothing, hats, horse toys such as Breyer models, and more.
The Czech Village also features places to eat and drink, including a restaurant and local watering holes. Baked goods, meat, wine and more can be found to fulfill your appetite. Many other mom-and-pop shops, selling everything from appliances to tattoos, have made their home in this ethnic area. Everyone will have different favorite stops, but regardless of your tastes, Czech Village is something special in this area, and it should be on your shopping list!
Ruth Paarmann, owner of Paarlance Creative Writing, is a freelance writer who appreciates quality ethnic experiences.