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Our gift to You

A bundle of Daily News secrets for Center City shopping

Every holiday season we ask ourselves how everything can possibly get done. This year, we offer a solution: Leverage your lunch break. By making every minute count while you're in Center City, in the vicinity of hundreds of stores, you can free up the two remaining weekends before Christmas (eeeek!) for cocoa-drinking and popcorn-stringing.

As you'd guess, the recalls of the lead-painted Doras and the drugged Aqua Dots have prompted holiday shoppers to ask storekeepers where toys come from. "They ask every day," says Peter Berman, co-owner of the Children's Boutique, an independent toy store at 17th and Walnut. "They're confused and they see the word 'China' and they're very leery. We're trying to guide them."

Lunch during the holiday shopping rush doesn't need to be a hot dog from the sidewalk cart with the shortest line. At these five Center City establishments, you can buy a nice gift and enjoy a sit-down meal on just one tab. The staff will ring up your lunch and your purchase together, in some cases even serving your gifts to the table as if they were selections from the a la carte menu.

For rapid transit through your gift list, we've found seven well-priced, beautifully wrapped presents for a typical mix of recipients — all within 10 blocks of City Hall. Wearing sneakers and moving at a good clip, our reporter was able to buy them all in one lunch hour. Average price: less than $25 each. Whew.

Becky Batcha takes you on a walking tour of Center City to find gifts that are already wrapped. You'll be guided in real time to the very shelves containing the spotlighted items on her Already Wrapped Map. Add in street musicians, sirens, jaywalking, and even a special visit from Santa, and you have a podcast that also captures Center City during the holiday rush.

The names Martha and Kmart go together like the brown sugar and molasses in Martha's gingerbread cookies. What you might not know is that because Kmart has merged with Sears, its stores also carry Craftsman tools. This holiday season, the Big K at the Gallery at Market East (9th Street) has a huge selection: utility knives, tool boxes, circular saws, work lights, laser levels, tool belts, tape measures, variable-speed drills, mechanics gloves and much more. There's even a 150 psi air compressor and a hydraulic shop stool.

As Michael Nutter prepares to move in, we'd like to bid a fond hello to another new City Hall tenant, the revamped and expanded City Hall Visitors' Center and Gift Shop, located at the building's East Portal (where the tower tours meet) and open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. The gifts here should appeal to any hard-core Phillyphile on your list.

One way to avoid holiday lines is to shop in places where no one else would think to go. City Hall certainly qualifies. In Center City, you might also consider these off-the-beaten-path options. Did you know there's an iPod vending machine just yards from City Hall?