Skip to Navigation
University of Pittsburgh
Print This Page Print this pages

December 9, 2004

Forget the Malls: You can do all of Your Holiday Shopping Right Here!

“The holidays, she believed, were no time to exercise restraint,” says a Lana Turner lookalike on a cocktail napkin at The Pitt Book Center. But how can you join the restraint-free hordes when you can’t face the malls and think there’s nothing left Downtown?

Relax. The intrepid shop-till-you-drop staff of the University Times has done the legwork for you — and it’s all within a short walk of your office. All you have to do is spend a lunch hour or two perusing Pitt’s astounding collection of gifts – and we’re not just talking about Pitt sweatshirts (though you can find those too, of course).

Pitt’s Oakland campus offers shoppers everything from Tiffany floor lamps and hand-blown Egyptian glass ornaments to a Panther bobblehead doll and an official Pitt rawhide dog bone.

Whether you’re shopping for the newest grandchild or the family patriarch, The Pitt Book Center, The Pitt Shop, Pittsburgh Panthers Team Store and Nationality Rooms gift shop have gift ideas galore. And think of the calories you’ll save by shopping on your lunch hour!


From rawhide to Tiffany

Okay, so not everyone on your list is a reader. Not to worry: There are countless gift ideas at The Book Center that have nothing to do with books.

A must-stop for the bargain-minded shopper is what’s known informally as the student section, where the gifts are cheeky, irreverent and cheap, averaging about $10 a piece. Among the offerings are Burt’s Bees earth-friendly natural personal care products. “Peppermint breath drops for man and beast” go for $5.99. There are crystals, book lights and art puzzles such as the 500-piece Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night, $13. And speaking of Vincent, he’s immortalized as a small plush doll with a removable ear (attached by Velcro) in the collection called “Little Thinkers.” The collection features the likenesses of artists, philosophers, etc., $14.99 -$18.85, from the Unemployed Philosophers Guild.

Just a few shelves away are more plush dolls of famous figures: The Unemployed Philosophers Guild offers its version of “The Axis of Evil” in a puppet set that features Kim Jong II of North Korea, Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, George W. Bush and Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, $18.75.

Don’t miss The Book Center’s fine arts department. Among the lavish coffee-table books and pieces of art is probably the largest calendar selection in the city, according to buyer Russell Kierzkowski. The Book Center’s 1,700 illustrated calendar collection began in 1960 when the Fifth Avenue store opened and offered shoppers 200 calendars. The Book Center’s collection pays homage to legendary artists, scientists, photographers, countries, cities, states, popular culture — almost anything providing an image and an audience. Typical wall calendars range from $9.99 to $14.99.

Unfortunately, some 250 calendars have sold out already. If you’re looking for the Llamas 2005 calendar, you’re out of luck, although Goats 2005 is still in stock. Some dog breeds were especially popular this year – calendars featuring pugs, St. Bernards and bichon fries are gone. Fans of robins, ferrets and rabbits also snapped up their calendars early, and those are tapped out as well. Another early seller was the extreme ironing calendar, depicting the thrills of extreme outdoor adventure combined with someone ironing. Who knew?

Other treasures waiting to be found in The Book Center’s fine arts department includes Chinese, Japanese and English teapots and tea sets, $35-$160.

New this year are Italian Venetian Murano glass rings, earrings, necklaces and bracelets, $15 and up. Scrabble and Royal Deluxe typewriter key charms are $24. Gifts in this department range from $410 for a Tiffany floor lamp to $7 for a spoon made of mother of pearl and sterling silver. Other eccentricities include painted gourds from Peru ($20), Russian lacquered boxes ($9 and up), reproductions of Japanese ivory sculptures from the Netsuke Museum ($18.50-$20) and graphite sculptures of feathers and other nature motifs ($30-$48).


Despite the vast array of non-gift books, this is The Book Center, after all.

Shoppers can find books autographed by authors such as musician Graham Nash and residents of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. As the University Times was going to press, The Book Center still has two autographed copies of the 1,500 limited edition of Bill Clinton’s “My Life” ($350).

The Book Center orders about 10,500 new titles throughout the year, according to Kierzkowski, who has been a buyer with the store since 1972. “The book industry publishes about 75,000 new titles a year,” he said. “We have a title base of 150,000 here, which is the largest title base in the region. Of course, you can also order any of the 4 million volumes in print through us.”

For most of the year paperbacks outsell hardbacks by about 3:1, while during the holiday season, hardbacks are the run-away winner at 4:1 over paperbacks, Kierzkowski said.

“We have some great values this year, like ‘The Travel Book,’ which the publisher, Thunder Bay Press, has value priced at $39.99. It’s a coffee-table book that could easily run $70 or $80.”

Other bargains include “The Complete Cartoons of ‘The New Yorker,'”– all 68,647 of them in 656 pages — for $44.99.

For something truly personal, try the photography-laden book, “Pennsylvania 24/7,” one of 50 state-specific sequels to The New York Times bestseller “America 24/7.” By accessing the company’s web site and uploading your favorite digital picture, you can customize the cover of the book.

Academic, scholarly, literary and reference titles are the store’s specialties. But books at the center run the gamut from local, regional, national and international interest to home- and self-improvement to best-selling fiction – and everything in between. “Our bestseller list books are always popular,” Kierzkowski said. “The success of ‘The Da Vinci Code’ has meant a re-issuing in hardback of Dan Brown’s earlier novel, ‘Angels & Demons,’ which I think is even better.” “Angels & Demons” lists for $19.95.

One surprise, Kierzkowski said, is the popularity of Jon Stewart’s “America” ($24.95), a humorous look at American-style democracy from the host of “The Daily Show.”

“I though we’d sell maybe 25 – 50 of them. But we’ve already sold 170, and the gift-giving season is still going strong.”

For those unwilling to give up their lunch hour, The Book Center’s web site ( offers on-line shopping. “We can’t take credit card information on-line because of security reasons,” Kierzkowski said. “When we receive your order, we call you directly for confirmation and payment information. We accept VISA, MasterCard and Discover, checks and money orders.”

And an added benefit: Staff, faculty and students receive a 10 percent discount on full-price popular books.

And if, despite the wide variety of gifts, you still can’t make up your mind, The Book Center also offers gift certificates.


All things Pitt

Looking for a gift that says “PITT”? Every one of your gifts can show your allegiance when you cover them in Pitt wrapping paper, available at The Book Center. There’s a multitude of gifts, ranging from the large handsome cherry mantle clock with Pitt medallion ($295), to the tiny Pitt thimble (PRICE). Signature key chains go for a dollar. A laser-cut crystal block with an etching of the Cathedral of Learning sells for $299.98, although a smaller version can be had for $69.98.

Other Pitt items at The Book Center include portfolios in leather or faux leather ($12.95- $45); pocket watch ($130); champagne flutes ($34); letter opener ($30).

If you want to extend the University association to Fido, consider the Pitt dog bowl, (PRICE) leash (PRICE), collar (PRICE) and rawhide bone ($6.95).

Sweatshirts have long been the chief way of showing your school colors, but at The Pitt Shop on Forbes Avenue hooded sweatshirts in particular are selling like hotcakes, according to The Book Center’s manager and buyer Dennis Crovella, a 15-year veteran of the fickle world of style trends. “Five to 10 years ago, you couldn’t give them away,” Crovella said.

As part of keeping up with what buyers want, Crovella attends the bi-annual MAGIC show. “There’s no magic about it: it stands for Men’s Apparel Graphic Imprints of California, a trade show where many of the major colleges — Notre Dame, USC — send representatives like me to see what to order for their campuses.”

College fads run about six months behind popular retail trends, he said, “but they eventually always do catch up.”

Sales are up over last year at this time, Crovella said. “I think our stronger ladies section has helped sales a lot. We offer many more clothes fitted for women as opposed to unisex clothing, which five years ago was the big thing. We have sweatshirts cut to ladies’ styles, and pink T-shirts and sweats and other merchandise.”

On-line sales also have increased steadily over the last few years, Crovella said. “I’d say it’s up about 20-25 percent this year. We’ve seen an increase because I think more and more people are used to shopping on-line.”

The Pitt Shop features more high-end products, with corporate sponsors including Nike, Adidas, Jansport, Vantage and Russell Athletic. Prices run from $16-$19 for Pitt hats and practice T-shirts to $30-$33 for sweatpants to $45-$60 for polo shirts and sweatshirts. Cotton boxer shorts go for $17, a crew shirt with Pitt felt appliqué is $45, and a lined golf jacket sets you back $80.

Top off your favorite Panther fanatic with an authentic football helmet at $250.

All ages can display their Panther pride: The store stocks everything from “Need a hug” bibs ($8) for drooling babies to silk ties for well-dressed executives ($25).

In addition to traditional garb for college kids and Pitt fans, The Pitt Shop offers charm bracelets, watches, refrigerator panther paw magnets ($11.21) and golf accessories such as a 3-ball, embroidered towel and tees set ($16.82).

Customers can buy a “beanie Panther” ($14.02), an athletic mascot afghan ($45), a Pitt shot glass ($2.80) or a Pitt marching band CD ($15). Purchases at the Pitt Shop help support Pitt athletics, student activities and the Pitt Alumni Association.

And if the selection at The Book Center and The Pitt Shop isn’t enough for you, take a lunchtime hike up to the Petersen Events Center. In the lobby, you’ll find the Pittsburgh Panthers Team Store, THE place for the hardcore Pitt athletics fan, according to Jim Moon, merchandise manager.

“One of our most popular items are the game jerseys,” said Moon. “With the success of the football team, we’re selling a lot of No. 78s, 43s and 3s,” the numbers of team stars Rob Petitti, Raymond Kirkley and Tyler Palko, respectively. “You can’t get the players’ name on the back because it’s against NCAA rules regarding a player’s amateur status — in fact if you see one out there, it’s pirated — but the students all know which player has which number.”

Team success helps the store’s sales, Moon acknowledged. “We’re starting to offer Fiesta Bowl merchandise, T-shirts and hats. There’s a lot of interest in that. And the success of the basketball team since we opened three years ago has driven sales up.”

Other items that are popular include just about anything with the Pitt scrip logo type, Moon said.

“Some things are predictable,” he said,” but I never would have guessed how popular our Pitt blankets are, for example, even though it hasn’t been that cold yet.” Other popular household items are the bedrest pillow ($39.99), Panthers clock ($24.99), a light-switch cover ($6), a Pitt computer mouse ($34.99), vertical-hanging banner ($19.99) and the Panther pride towel ($3.99).

For tailgating fans, the store has a 12-pack cooler with Pitt logo ($24.95), hot sauce party pack ($24.95), a plastic “Panthers Only” parking sign ($9.99), an embossed football to toss around the parking lot ($24.99), Panthers 32-oz. sports bottle (5.99) and bumper stickers ($1.99) and vanity license plates ($23.35).

The Panther 7 1/2-inch mascot figurine ($39.99) and the Panther bobblehead collectible doll are musts for every collector on your gift list ($17.95).

For the Pitt fan who gets the bends when the teams aren’t playing, the team store offers an authentic Petersen Events Center chair for $349.99. Less expensive reminders of past glory include an authentic a Dan Marino throwback jersey ($239.99), Pitt Stadium replica ($34.99), and “history of Pitt football” by era lithographs ($62.49 each). The store offers a number of books on Pitt athletic triumphs, and sports media guides for the statistically oriented.

Items for the nascent Pitt fan-in-training include a newborn sleeper with bib, a footed white sleeper or an infant bodysuit ($14.99 each), booties ($5.99), infant football jersey ($24.99) and Panthers fanatic doll ($5.99).

For those very special Panther friends, there is even a Pitt garter ($7.99).

The store does a booming on-line business, Moon said, because a large segment of its customer base is out-of-state alumni, “who insist on purchasing the real thing. We ship all over the world, really. We also sell a large number of gift certificates and we get a lot of gift receipt requests, so we know the merchandise is being purchased as gifts,” he said.

Purchases at the Pittsburgh Panthers Team Store help support Pitt athletic scholarships. Shoppers can park for free in Lot J.


An international flair

Known for her penchant for anything international, E. Maxine Bruhns, director of the Nationality Rooms, has scoured the world over for many of the trinkets, jewelry and just plain interesting items for the Nationality Rooms gift shop. A X-piece Mastreshka from Russia is $17, a handmade embroidered Christmas stocking, 11″ X 15″ sells for $12.

In need of the protection from an evil eye? Keepsake evil eyes appear on jewelry and even a tree ornament made in Turkey, $4. Other unusual and inexpensive tree ornaments a hand-blown glass bauble trimmed in 14 carat gold from Egypt, $15; a wheat straw fish, hand-made in China, $6.

Filed under: Feature,Volume 37 Issue 8

Leave a Reply