AAA Magazines

10 shops with gift-worthy, handcrafted creations

Visitors to Schimpff's Confectionery will often find owners Jill and Warren Schimpff making cinnamon red hots or other sweets. Photo by Matt Allen

Handmade holiday gifts carry a sense of individuality and thoughtfulness. However, not all of us have the time or talent to make the ideal gifts for those we love.

Fortunately, we share the region with some really creative and entrepreneurial spirits at a time when makers are flourishing. Check out their beautiful creations and perhaps purchase a one-of-a-kind piece for a loved one—or yourself.

Jump to: Arkansas | Illinois | Indiana | Kansas | Louisiana | Mississippi | Missouri

1. Provenance Soapworks

St. Charles, Missouri

Owner Carolyn Holden among the shelves of goods for sale at her shop Provenance Soapworks.

Carolyn Holden, who owns Provenance Soapworks, draws inspiration for her bath bombs, scrubs, and soaps from her world travels. Photo courtesy Provenance Soapworks LLC

Those who love to travel will appreciate the global inspiration of soaps created by Carolyn Holden at Provenance Soapworks. Holden’s sugar scrubs, bombs, and soaps showcase the flavors, scents, and colors of her journeys, including a backpacking trip through Europe and her honeymoon in Greece. Check out the Passport Collection, inspired by Paris, Sicily, and the sunsets of Santorini.

No passport is needed to visit her shop in historic St. Charles, where candles, soap dishes, and washcloths complete the journey. While there, note the shop’s handcrafted cabinets, shelves, and tables. Carolyn’s husband, Mike, a talented woodworker, created those, as well as the sign out front.

You may also like: Things to do in St. Charles, Missouri

2. The Corner Candleshop

Kansas City, Missouri

Lori Block holding a box of candles insider her shop.

Lori Block has been creating and selling candles at The Corner Candleshop for 20 years. Photo courtesy The Corner Candleshop

Celebrating 20 years in Kansas City’s lively Brookside neighborhood, The Corner Candleshop thrives thanks to Lori Block’s deep knowledge of candle making and her personal relationship with customers. Votives and tea candles are the top sellers, but Block says that sales of tapered candles are on the rise.

Looking for a one-of-a-kind gift or home decor item? Bring your favorite heirloom cup or vessel to the shop, then choose from a dozen scents that rotate each month to create a custom candle with a personal touch. It’s a sweet-smelling way to reuse and recycle.

3. Rolling Oak Alpaca Ranch

Makanda, Illinois

Herd of alpacas looking up from their grazing.

Get up close to the alpacas on tours of Rolling Oak Alpaca Ranch. Photo courtesy Rolling Oak Alpaca Ranch

If you want warm fuzzy smiles and clothing to match, head to Rolling Oak Alpaca Ranch east of Makanda on the way to Lick Creek. The smiles come from the adorable alpacas on this 10-acre family farm. Hold on to that warmth with socks, scarves, hats, and sweaters made from soft alpaca yarn. Candles, soaps, knitting supplies, and other gift items are also available online.

Woman wearing a poncho and hat knit from alpaca yarn.

Soft alpaca yarn harvested from the animals at Rolling Oak Alpaca Ranch is used to create hats, scarves, sweaters, and more. Photo courtesy Rolling Oak Alpaca Ranch

Take a self-guided tour to the alpaca pens and feed the animals over the gates. Learn about the alpacas and their care on guided tours that include time inside the pens. Self-guided tours, $10. Guided tours, $50 for up to 5 guests; rates increase for larger groups. Guided tours must be prebooked.

4. Mississippi Mud Pottery

Alton, Illinois

They call themselves “the mud gang,” and you’ll find their creations at craft fairs and community festivals around the Midwest. But to watch the potters in action, visit Mississippi Mud Pottery in downtown Alton. You might even meet Raven, a King Charles spaniel who oversees the pottery shop’s operations.

Chad Nelson working at a pottery wheel.

During visits to Mississippi Mud Pottery, you might catch co-owner Chad Nelson turning a piece on the pottery wheel. Photo courtesy Mississippi Mud Pottery

At the shop, you’ll often see Chad Nelson at the pottery wheel and Felicia Breen glazing the finished pieces. The nearby Mississippi River and Mother Nature in general inspire many of the co-owners’ designs. Mississippi Mud is celebrating its 40th anniversary throughout 2023, so all new creations carry a commemorative stamp. Closed Tuesdays.

You may also like: Charming Mississippi River towns you’ll want to visit

5. Schimpff’s Confectionery

Jeffersonville, Indiana

Candymakers at work inside Schimpff's Confectionery.

Shoppers at Schimpff's Confectionery, which dates to 1891, can often watch candy being made. Photo by Matt Allen

There’s really nothing new at Schimpff’s Confectionery in Jeffersonville. That’s much of the appeal of this candy business, owned by the Schimpff family for 4 generations. Open since 1891, it’s one of the country’s oldest family-owned candy companies. When you see the selection of jars and cases brimming with sweets, you’ll feel like a kid in a, well, candy shop.

Watch artisans create cinnamon red hots, peanut brittle, and other sweets with love and attention to detail while using skills passed down through the generations. Making hard candies, including seasonal candy canes, is challenging, but it’s a Schimpff specialty. Take time to explore the candy museum and order a drink from the soda fountain. Closed Sundays.

You may also like: Unique attractions in the Midwest and South

6. Lucky Dog Pet Grocery & Bakery

Lawrence, Kansas

A dog looking at pet-safe treats inside a bakery case.

You can bring your pooch into Lucky Dog Pet Grocery & Bakery to pick out a treat. Photo courtesy Lucky Dog Pet Grocery & Bakery

While buying gifts for the people in our lives can be difficult, it’s usually easy to shop for a pet. If our furry friends could write, they would surely put treats and toys at the top of their wish lists. At Lucky Dog Pet Grocery & Bakery, you’ll find all manner of both along with other items like leashes, collars, beds, and apparel (for both pets and people).

The shop specializes in custom-made treats for dogs and cats, including whimsically decorated cookies and cakes. A team of 3 full-time bakers incorporate ingredients like applesauce, peanut butter, and oats into the items they produce daily. You can even bring your pet along, and you might get lucky and meet store ambassadors Sirius, a pit bull, or Pretzel, a tabby cat, who greet customers on most days.

You may also like: A quick quide to Lawrence, Kansas

7. James Hayes Art Glass

Pine Bluff, Arkansas

James Hayes on a ladder underneath a chandelier he created.

In addition to crafting glass birds, jewelry, bowls, and centerpieces, James Hayes creates custom chandeliers. Photo courtesy James Hayes Art Glass Co.

You can find James Hayes’ creative glassworks in galleries and gift shops across Arkansas and Louisiana, as well as at numerous regional festivals. But to meet Hayes and get an idea of the complexity of his work as a glass artist, visit his Pine Bluff studio. Inspired in part by nature, his vibrant creations are playful and adventurous.

It’s a family business, with Hayes’ daughter, Sydney, also blowing glass. Watch for a while and ask questions if you like. Their specialties are large installation pieces and glass birds. Check out the Christmas ornaments, jewelry, bowls, and home decor items like elaborate chandeliers and centerpieces. Closed Saturdays and Sundays.

8. Miller’s Mud Mill

Dumas, Arkansas

Ceramic pieces on display at Miller's Mud Mill.

Discover vibrant colors and creative shapes and styles in the pottery at Miller's Mud Mill. Photo courtesy Miller's Mud Mill

The bright colorful glazes and unusual shapes at Miller’s Mud Mill pottery are the legacy of Gail Miller, who started throwing pottery in her garage nearly 40 years ago. Her family honors her passion for nonconforming shapes, colors, and styles in mugs, platters, wind chimes, vases, and more.

“There’s nothing cookie-cutter about what we do here,” says Shelley Miller, Gail’s daughter-in-law, who manages the shop in the Brookhaven Shopping Center. Closed Sundays.

9. Martin Accordions

Scott, Louisiana

Music is the soul of Louisiana, and the accordion is one of the instruments that makes it soar. Its unmistakable sound is integral to Cajun, Creole, and zydeco music, providing both rhythm and melody. For a complete baptism, visit Martin Accordions in Scott. Founder Clarence “Junior” Martin Jr. has played accordions for nearly all of his 82 years and crafted them for the past 40. Now, his kids are involved in the process too.

Call to schedule a 90-minute tour. Start with a deep dive into the differences between Cajun, Creole, and zydeco music. Then learn how a 10-button diatonic accordion is made from various materials and types of wood. Live music accompanies the presentation, and you can even try playing an accordion yourself.

You may also like: Savor the cuisine, music, and history of Louisiana’s Cajun Country

10. Shearwater Pottery

Ocean Springs, Mississippi

Kiln filled with ceramics including bowls and cups.

At Shearwater Pottery, you'll find all manner of dinnerware, decorative tiles, figurines, and more. Photo courtesy Shearwater Pottery

Peter Anderson first sat down at a pottery wheel in 1928 to create a piece for the fledgling Shearwater Pottery. That handiwork and subsequent creations put little Ocean Springs on the map. Peter’s 2 brothers joined him, and then his children followed.

Today, 80-year-old Jimmy Anderson, Peter’s son, continues this line of family creativity, but copies of Peter’s original molds are still cast today. Peruse dinnerware, decorative tiles, figurines of baseball and football players, lamps, teapots, and more.

Jimmy Anderson working with clay.

Jimmy Anderson, son of Shearwater Pottery's founder, Peter Anderson, works on a piece. Photo courtesy Shearwater Pottery

You’ll also find Shearwater Pottery products, along with a host of other creations, at the Peter Anderson Arts & Crafts Festival. Held this year on November 4 and 5 in downtown Ocean Springs, it’s one of Mississippi’s largest arts festivals, with about 400 booths.

Diana Lambdin Meyer is a freelance writer from Parkville, Missouri.

You may also like: Things to do in Ocean Springs, Mississippi

Follow us on Instagram

Follow @AAAAutoClubEnterprises for the latest on what to see and do.

Read more articles

You'll find more of the articles you love to read at AAA Insider.

Travel offers & deals

" "

Hot travel deals

Get the latest offers from AAA Travel’s preferred partners.

" "

Travel with AAA

See how we can help you plan, book, and save on your next vacation.

" "

Entertainment savings

Save big with AAA discounts on tickets to your next adventure.

" "

Travel with confidence

Purchase travel insurance with Allianz Global Assistance.

back to top icon