Men sometimes feel left out when it comes to holiday shopping. Sure, we're part of the unruly mobs that storm giant retailers like Walmart and Best Buy to get our hands on discounted big screen TVs and electric juice-makers. We're probably the most violent constituents of those mobs.
But when it comes to the season in its entirety, aisles overflowing with holiday decor, giftwrapping stations, beautifully penned lists, men usually aren't the ones driving sales.
By referring to men in this way, of course, I'm stereotyping. I apologize to any man in advance whose personal traits or behavior exist outside this gross generalization.
For the purposes of this story, however, R-C Photographer Jim Grant and I fit into this stereotype very well. On Monday, we set out for three businesses in south Gardnerville, two of which already have been visited by the ghost of Christmas future in the form of a rising Walmart. Our objective was simple enough - answer the question of what men really want for Christmas.
The first stop on our journey was Ahern Rentals off Service Drive. Because of an unfortunate median constructed for the aforementioned superstore, we had to take Southgate Drive to access the business.
Riding mowers, log splitters and rototillers lined the entrance of the store. We knew we were no longer in Macy's. In fact, we had never been in Macy's. The discount bin just inside the door had paintbrushes, long-nose pliers, tape measures, and a rubber-handled hacksaw.
"A lot times, couples will come together and get an idea of what the men want, and then the wife will come back and buy it," said store manager Alex Hall.
Hall and his staff had a simple answer for our zealous inquiry. Men, they said, want Carhartt - jackets, jeans, shirts and boots - of which Ahern Rentals is a proud carrier.
"Men usually know exactly what they want when it comes to Carhartt," customer service rep Jennifer Gmitter proclaimed, while sorting through jackets. "They might have had one for 15 years, and it's worn out, so they want a new one."
In western Nevada, where the elements can bear down on a man, the rugged Carhartt jacket is not only popular but maintains heirloom status among some families.
"A guy will come in here and hold one up," explained retail manager Kerry Hodges. "He'll tell us, 'I'm gonna have my wife come back and buy this for me.'"
Though Carhartt is a big chunk of Ahern's holiday sales, their 10,000-square-foot retail space houses all the tools and hardware a handy man could want.
"Our Liberty safes are huge during the holidays. Wives come in and tell us their husbands are looking for a safe," said Hall. "Our next big sellers are the chain saws, Stihl and Echo. Occasionally, women will come in for those, but a lot of times, men just buy themselves the saws for Christmas."
While Hodges can certainly hold his own on the sales floor, he said it helps to have a knowledgeable female coworker. Women, he said, can feel intimidated when shopping for their husbands.
"Jennifer knows so much about hardware," Hodges said. "She can help men and women."
Hall added that the atmosphere at Ahern is probably different than the atmosphere at big box stores on the hill.
"There won't be people running all over the place," he said. "No lines, no traffic."
In the spirit of our excursion, we decided to list the greatest novelty gifts and stocking stuffers at each store.
At Ahern, the best novelty gifts were boot chains for walking on ice and logoed hard hats for diehard football fans. The best stocking stuffers were Forney cowhide work gloves, Swiss Army knives, walkie-talkies, and protective eyewear.
The second destination on our trip was Carson Valley Carquest, also on Service Drive. Its bargain bin struck us with similar, if not more specialized, offerings: truck tie-downs, socket wrenches, wire brushes.
"For the guys, if you buy them car parts, they're gonna like it," declared store owner Jason Spohr. "There's not a man out there who wouldn't want to see car parts under the tree."
Though Carquest will actually be closed today for Black Friday, Spohr had no shortage of gift ideas for the rest of the shopping season.
"High performance parts are great, but you have to know what you're buying," he said. "Oil change kits are a great gift idea. Lifters, jacks and jack stands, and creepers for sliding under the car are great ideas."
Spohr hefted one of his last sets of flex-head Gear Wrenches:
"If you're working on an engine, this is the ticket."
For the auto aesthete, Carquest offers customized floor mats, steering wheel covers and license plate frames, among other accessories.
The best novelty gift, for sheer appearance, but not without practical value, was the blue coverall suit.
"It's a great idea when you're going into the mountains and have to put chains on," said Spohr. "If you're lying in the snow, it's really handy to have on."
Addressing women shoppers who might be reluctant to enter the realm of auto parts, Spohr said there's nothing to fear.
"We'll ask them what kind of cars their husbands have," he said. "Do they own hot rods, stock cars? Where do they drive? Do they off-road? Again, knowing what kind of vehicle they have will help us pick out parts."
And what if a loving wife happens to purchase the wrong part? No worries, Spohr said.
"We've always had an open policy with returns and exchanges," he said.
As for stocking stuffers, Spohr pointed to fully stocked shelves of fuel additives.
"They will clean engine deposits and increase fuel economy," he said.
Consider air fresheners, ice scrapers and wiper blades as well. Throw in a ratcheting cable puller for the heck of it, or not.
The third and final stop of our expedition was Ace Hardware. The Industrial Way store has been owned and operated by local hardware sage Jeff Peters for 13 years.
We met up with his son, Jeffrey Peters, who is a 2001 Douglas High grad and current store manager.
"We have about 8,500 square feet of retail space with just over 46,000 SKUs, or stock-keeping units," he said.
He wasn't joking. Ace Hardware is a cornucopia of man gifts. Garden equipment. Power tools. Ammunition.
Like Hall at Ahern, Peters has one product line he can hang his hat on: Craftsman.
"What was real big last year were the Craftsman tool boxes," he said. "The mechanic tool sets are always big. There's a lifetime warranty on any Craftsman item. If you find a rusty old wrench in the parking lot and bring it to us, we'll hand you a new one on the spot."
Ace also offers arts and craft products, sporting goods, barbecue supplies, fireplace accessories, and pool and spa items.
Peters has a special place in his heart for the store's No. 1 selling flashlight, the Maglite.
To many men, and by many I mean myself, Maglites are to utility flashlights what Carhartts are to work jackets.
"They're American-made," Peters said. "They're bright, water-tight, and work whether it's wet or dry."
When it comes to novelty gifts and stocking stuffers, the sundries at Ace Hardware overwhelm. Gorilla brand super glue. Strike-anywhere matches. A music CD of David John and the Comstock Cowboys. A snake bite kit. And, of course, duct tape.
To market their products for the holidays, Peters said the store still uses paper advertisements. This year, though, they decided to scale back their early opening for Black Friday.
"We'll get a big run about eight to noon," he said. "Then it will just be steady all day."
Heading back to the office, Jim and I pondered the meaning of our journey. Had we answered the age-old question of what men want for Christmas? Perhaps the answer revealed itself when Jim purchased two HVAC filters at Ace Hardware. He had remembered his chore list and didn't want to make another trip.
Now, I can't help but remember what he said to me at the first store we visited:
"There are quite a few things in here I could use."