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Dreading crowds this holiday season? Don't.

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Believe it or not, the holidays are upon us, and if the National Retail Federation’s predictions are correct, this year shoppers are getting started earlier than ever. While this is good news for retailers — sales are expected to jump by 2.8 percent from last year — it means that consumers can expect to spend more time fighting over dwindling stock and waiting in line with other weary shoppers. And there’s certainly no holiday spirit crusher bigger than being trampled by the impatient masses bursting through the doors of their favorite stores on Black Friday.

Luckily, you have options, and I don’t just mean weighing prices between Walmart and Target. Although big-box retailers traditionally serve as easy, one-stop shops for holiday needs, there are several alternative options where you can find equal or better deals with fewer headaches:

• Online retailers. For those averse to fighting crowds during the holiday season, the Web is the easiest, least-stressful way to find most of the gifts you need. This year, many online retailers are sweetening the deal by offering free shipping. And online shopping isn’t just for people scouring Amazon for Kindles. Sites like Etsy feature handmade, one-of-a-kind items that can’t be purchased at big-box retailers such as Toys “R” Us.

• Local retailers. There’s no better way to spread holiday cheer than to support our local economy. Central Florida is full of independent merchants selling everything from clothes to handmade items to home goods. In addition to shorter lines, smaller retailers often have a unique inventory and provide better service than you’ll find among exhausted, overworked staff at larger stores. Google and Yelp are great resources to find local merchants, and the Buy Local Orlando website features a directory of retailers offering deals and promotions.

• Pawnshops. The pawn industry has evolved dramatically in the past 10 years and many of today’s pawn chains have high standards when it comes to store presentation and staff. Stores’ versatile merchandise — such as electronics, bikes and musical equipment — is composed of both new and used items available at a fraction of the price you’d find at a big box retailer. Furthermore, the jewelry selection at many pawnshops is comparable to a traditional store. For example, La Familia Pawn & Jewelry has on-staff jewelers and gemologists, and provides appraisals and warranties for items purchased in-store.

• Farmers markets. A local institution that takes place each Saturday, the Winter Park Farmers Market is a great place to find jams, honeys, desserts and plants that are perfect for small gift swaps. And if what you’re looking for is trinkets or novelty items, the farmer’s market held at Lake Eola each Sunday features booths with art, jewelry and other handmade goods.

So before you head out with coffee in hand to fight the crowds on Black Friday for that last Let’s Rock Elmo doll, be sure to check out some alternative options — and maybe you can actually enjoy shopping this holiday season.

Kahlden is president & CEO of Winter Park-based La Familia Pawn & Jewelry.