Ground Control

Buying presents for the entire family—at Sea-Tac.

Quick. You’re racing to catch your flight home for the holidays when the horrible thought hits you between Concourse C and your gate: “Shit, I forgot to buy presents.” Glancing at your watch, you realize there are just 30 minutes before your plane’s scheduled departure. That’s time enough—thanks to Seattle’s little-known shopping mall of last resort. Sure, it isn’t Pacific Place, but the main terminal at Sea-Tac offers an outstanding selection of fine emergency retail outlets. In a half-hour you can cram your carry-on bag with enough gifts to satisfy everyone awaiting you at home: disappointed parents, hostile in-laws, screaming nieces and nephews, or that secret second family you’ve been hiding in Utah.

Start with books. You can’t go wrong with the many, many Star Trek and Star Wars series sci-fi tomes at Benjamin Books; most are in Roman numerals well past XVI—that’s Latin for quality! Novelizations of top-drawer movies like K-PAX also abound; who says Shallow Hal isn’t worthy of serious literary treatment? Oprah’s Book Club has its own convenient display, and you can purchase a nearly complete selection of works from L. Ron Hubbard and Tom Clancy. Gifts for the serious reader include a Velcro-and-nylon-padded protective Bible cover ($28.95) and that holiday perennial—tasseled bookmarks (just $2.99)! Meanwhile, over at Book Business, it’s not all accounting manuals and CEO biographies. Those flying solo will enjoy Erotic Travel Tales ($14.95). After your third cocktail, that might lead to an interesting conversation with the flight attendants.

The clock is running. Northwest Edition is a surefire bet for anything with the word “Seattle” embossed on it: hats, T-shirts, sweaters—you name it. (Family members who had their hearts set on “Tacoma” merchandise are going to be disappointed, however—there is none.) Space Needle key chains start from $3.99; an official Sleepless in Seattle hot pad for your unmarried sister’s tea kettle is only $6.99. Shopping for the budding volcanologist? Collectible sculptures made of genuine Mount St. Helens ash include an adorable puppy ($26.99), or get a three-tiered Lucite cube of ash samples collected at five, 22, and 250 miles from the eruption ($5.99). On your way out the door, pick up a mouse pad bearing an ersatz-Impressionist rendering of the Smith Tower ($13.99) or a ferry boat wind chime set ($48)—perfect for your aunt with the artistic bent.

Fifteen minutes left. Don’t panic. Pacific Sound News & Gifts has Ichiro hats for the entire clan, plus Pacific Grace: Spirit of the Killer Whale on CD ($18.99). Everyone loves crooning orcas on Christmas morning.

Gay? Grab a Pike Place Market picture frame that conveniently comes with a photo of a happy, blond family ($24.99) so you can show the folks your beautiful wife, kids, and, er, brother-in-law. Remember to get more Seattle-embossed pens and pencils at the register!

They’re announcing the final boarding for your flight. Hustle to Northwest Passage, Sea-Tac’s pre-eminent upscale gift boutique. Although actually made in Canada, tiny wooden totem poles make nice stocking stuffers in various sizes ($14.99 for 6 inches). Skip the regional chocolates, candy (Aplets & Cotlets), coffee, and microbrews—you find those in any old concourse; this is the place to buy something unique. What parent wouldn’t be thrilled to own a sacred Indian walking staff ($450) adorned with feathers, leather, and fur? For that hard-to-please epicurean, grab a locally made glass sushi set ($95) plus a few boxes of smoked salmon (the next best thing to raw). And what says love, gratitude, generosity, and family more than a 4-foot-high glass seagrass sculpture ($700) made by local artist Kevin Fulton. His work is on display in the Space Needle, but now your in-laws can have one of his pieces in their own home.

Run! But what about the kids? Fortunately, there are two convenient Thomas Cook Currency Exchange kiosks in the main terminal. Remember: There’s nothing children love more than to play with colorful, fun-filled rupees, bahts, and kopecks—all available at very favorable rates. (Plus, they’re educational.) A buck will buy you hundreds, so collect the entire series! Bon voyage, and many happy returns!