Where Do You Find Local Deals?

Groupon, Deal Chicken, Amazon Local — you’ve all heard of these, and more, I’m sure. These sites offer discounts on travel, restaurants, outings, shopping, and stuff. Do you have something else where you live?

In Vermont there is a new site called “Localvore Today,” which features local Vermont businesses. The goal is to encourage Vermonters to shop/dine/visit local businesses in order to improve the local economy and support local business. Sometimes local shopping is more expensive than chain-shopping (in the short-term, perhaps not the long-term) so Localvore Today gives anyone the opportunity to experience the local businesses at a great deal. Often the deals include pay $5 for a $10 voucher at a restaurant, or 50% off a fitness/wellness class. I purchased three group exercise classes for $22 instead of $45.

Buy Local Vermont - great deals!

Buy Local Vermont – great deals!

Another option for local deals is to purchase the Buy Local book from Local First Vermont. This book costs $15 and includes great coupons to businesses throughout Vermont (mostly northern Vermont). Deals are as good as spend $5 at Speeder & Earl’s (coffee), get $5 off. Or buy one burrito, get one free. Deals are also on ski rentals, kayak rentals, pet food, oil changes, gifts, restaurants, etc. It is a great resource for discounts, outing ideas, and more. You can easily earn back the $15 cost. (Luck me, I won mine at a Yankee Swap this year. It is a good reminder to buy one next year.)

Now I’m curious. Where do you live and how do you find your local deals? Is there an equivalent Localvore site or Buy Local book? Please share, and I”ll update this post to include other areas.

Black Friday, Flannel Friday & Small Business Saturday

The term “Black Friday” did not originate in reference to the consumer madness following Thanksgiving Day in the United States. Historically, “Black Friday” refers to September 24, 1869, the day when the gold market crashed at the hand of Ulysses S. Grant. To his credit, he was attempting to improve the economy, but it didn’t go as planned.

“Black Friday” as a shopping day originated in the 1960s, when Philadelphia reporters described the rush of people at the stores on the day after Thanksgiving. However, even before the 1960s, this day was important to the retail industry and Christmas shoppers. According to Time magazine (A Brief History of Black Friday):

As early as the 19th century, shoppers have viewed Thanksgiving as the traditional start to the holiday shopping season, an occasion marked by celebrations and sales. Department stores in particular locked onto this marketing notion, hosting parades to launch the start of the first wave of Christmas advertisements, chief among them, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, running in New York City since 1924. The holiday spree became so important to retailers that during the Great Depression, they appealed to President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939 to move Thanksgiving up in order to stretch out the holiday shopping season. Roosevelt obliged, moving Thanksgiving one week earlier, but didn’t announce the change until October. As a result, Americans had two Thanksgivings that year — Roosevelt’s, derisively dubbed “Franksgiving,” and the original. Because the switchover was handled so poorly, few observed it, and the change resulted in little economic boost.

Do you shop on Black Friday? Shopping is tempting sometimes because it’s easy to get caught up in the advertising. However, it’s also chaos and according to this Atlantic article, only a few items are actually the best deal. Shoppers beware! But, really, if you choose to shop on Black Friday, that’s fine. Still, can we all agree that it’s just not fair for stores to open on Thanksgiving Day when they are kicking off Black Friday? We spend all day and weeks prior telling the internet for what we are thankful and then we head out to the stores immediately after we finish the turkey and pie? It seems a bit off-kilter.

As an alternative to Black Friday, some towns and cities like Montpelier, VT have Flannel Friday which encourages shoppers to wear flannel and shop at local businesses. If you wear flannel, you get a discount. In other places it’s called “Plaid Friday.” (Vermont likes to be different, of course!)

Saturday November 30, 2013 is Small Business Saturday, an initiative led by American Express to encourage people to shop at local businesses. Merchants, if you’re an American Express member, you’re set. Customers, if you enroll your card and then spend $10 using your American Express card, you can get $10 back from American Express. Check out the full details here and then sign up here!

Shop Small on Small Business Saturday!

Shop Small on Small Business Saturday!

Will you shop? What is your preferred day? What is your favorite local store? Share any good links below.

Coffee Shop Conundrum

Coffee shop culture has changed with the advent of computers, wifi, smart phones, and all other devices that we all use everyday. Conversations and meetings still occur, but many people are there for the sake of productivity. With others working diligently (or at least appearing to do so), the background hum of other customers, and a good, hot beverage and snack, a coffee shop provides a comfortable atmosphere and alternative work space.

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The Traveled Cup in St. Albans, VT.

Wherever I’m traveling or whenever I have a considerable amount of writing/studying to accomplish, I prefer to spend time in a welcoming coffee shop. What is welcoming to me: comfortable chairs, various seating options, historic buildings, a nice ceiling, background music, good coffee, a few snack options, good lighting, some warmth to the space (rug or wood floors, not linoleum or stick tiles, for examples). Most often, a historic building that maintains its historic integrity fits all of these coffee shop requirements.

Sitting in a coffee shop on Saturday afternoon, I found it surprisingly empty of customers, except for a few people, all working or studying. Having the table space is much appreciated as well as a choice seat, all while sipping a bottomless cup of coffee and enjoying an oatmeal raisin cookie, but I found myself wondering how these little shops stay in business. There didn’t seem to be enough business over the course of a few hours to even fund the employees working. This particular coffee shop is probably much busier during the work week, and maybe I ended up in one of those weird customer lulls.

Coffe House & Block Gallery in Winooski, VT.

Coffee House & Block Gallery in Winooski, VT.

The cost for a cup of regular coffee varies; I’ve seen $1.25 to $2.50, but it generally falls at about $2.00. In some ways, $2.00 for a cup of coffee seems like a lot of money; after all, even buying a $12/lb bag of coffee, I can get so many more cups for $2.00. However, that amount of money would not support the overhead costs of a business (building, utilities, employees, insurance, supplies, food, etc.) It makes sense that the cup of coffee costs more – aside from the fact that someone made it for you – because it is paying for the atmosphere. If we weren’t seeking a coffee shop environment, we’d all swing by the nearest gas station and be on our way.

Still, say you pay $2.00 for a cup of coffee (maybe $2.50 for a bottomless cup or $.99 for a refill), and then proceed to spend hours in one coffee shop, how much should it really cost? It’s a tricky situation. Coffee shops provide wifi and other amenities to encourage customers, but people can routinely stay too long. If space is in demand, this is noticed.

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Speeder & Earl’s in Burlington, VT

Coffee lovers, what do you do? Do you make sure to buy food or many cups of coffee? Perhaps a more expensive coffee drink? Do you ever feel like you shouldn’t be monopolizing your table for so long? I do my best to only take a small table, to order more than one item (spaced out over the time I’m there), and to return frequently. I want to support these businesses and the local economy. If there were no local coffee shops, we’d all be subjected to the chain retailers. (Alert! Preservation confession ahead.) And while I do enjoy Starbucks coffee, I do not enjoy spending time in Starbucks. They are cold in temperature, have a tin sound, and are generally not comfortable. It must be by design. Who else thinks so? In order to keep our local coffee shops in business, I’m going to drink more coffee, and remember that when a price seems high, I don’t mind paying it because I like where I am. How do you feel?

A Preservationist’s Confession: I Get Overwhelmed at Farmers’ Markets

It’s true. I love the idea of farmers’ markets: local food, local folks, supporting the local economy, community gatherings, live music, mingling, sunshine, open air, chatting, fresh food, baked goods, use of town green space or something similar. They embody some strong preservation and community ideals.

What could possibly be wrong with a farmers’ market? 

I’ll let you in on a secret because, let’s face it, no one is perfect, preservationist or not. As the post title tells: I get overwhelmed at farmers’ markets, and I always have.

How is that possible, you ask? You live in Vermont, that’s ridiculous, you say. You’re a preservationist who is always talking about local economy, you say.

I know, I know!*

Here’s how. As I am not much of a cook, or at least an organized cook who is capable of planning meals, I tend to wander around a farmers’ market and wind up the full circle later, having no idea what to buy. I can smile and chat with the artists, admire their work, hold a cup of coffee, eat prepared food, enjoy the live music, be neighborly, but produce, meat and other stands? Unless I want berries or just a few tomatoes, I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing. I don’t even know what some of the vegetables are, and I’m a healthy eater. And unless it’s  produce that I know, I’m skeptical of prices. Despite what we think and hope, not everything is less expensive at a farmers’ market (add that to my list of pet peeves).

After wandering around for some time, I end up frazzled and heading home with very little produce. Let’s not even talk about buying meat. That’s many steps ahead, despite the fact that local meat is important to me. And then I feel guilty for not doing more very local shopping! But I don’t know how to improve. So it’s really just the same cycle over and over.

There is where you might tease me mercilessly, or offer some helpful advice. I can handle both.

Of course, there are probably simple solutions, like talking to the farmers, etc. And there are more complicated solutions like learning to plan meals. Bring on the solutions.

My point in sharing this is to a) share a weakness I have as a preservationist and b) to tell you that by the end of the summer I will successfully shop at a farmers’ market for a week’s worth of produce & meat, rather than the grocery store. At least, I’ll do my very best. Expect it to take all summer. I’ll report back to you.

And now it’s your turn to offer your own confession, whether you are a preservationist or not.

*P.S. I live in Vermont and I’ve never once been skiing. How’s that to confuse you?!

All the Rage: Cash Mobs

March 24th is International Cash Mob Day. What is a cash mob? Good question. A recent community focused, local-centric, economic recovery/boost tool is known as a “Cash Mob.” 

In case you’re wondering, mob refers to people en masse, and not the mob like in The Godfather.  And the term “cash mob” is referencing “flash mob,” in which people break out into choreographed dance or other surprising random, organized activity.  

This mass of people will simultaneously enter (let’s say invade) a local business with the purpose of making a purchase of at least $20 in order to help the proprietor. Perhaps this owner experienced a poor year of sales and deserved the extra help because of his/her commitment to the community. It’s like a wave of economic stimulus within one hour. A little community concern, collective effort and positive vibes and actions can go a long way in helping economic vitality and morale.

While not exactly a bricks and mortar effort or a long lasting community change, cash mobs show the importance of supporting local businesses. A cash mob can show a local proprietor just how much his/her business is appreciated. We all know that every little bit counts, whether financial or a friendly smile and a good day. Business owners need their customers, and we need local businesses in our towns and cities.

Check out if there is a cash mob event near you. Vermont has had two cash mobs already, one in Middlebury and one in Waterbury, with two scheduled for Saturday: Barre and Waitsfield (follow @CashMobVermont on Twitter). But events are everywhere! Follow @CashMob on Twitter for more information. Read this article from  Public Radio International for additional information. YouTube has many cash mob videos from around the country and the world.

If there is not a cash mob in your town or area, Saturday would still be a good day to get and support the local businesses and economy. Instead of heading to the usual chain stores, take one minute to consider the local store you’ve yet to patronize. Perhaps there is a local pharmacy or garden supply store or market or stationery store. Give your town a chance. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Aside from thinking about local businesses, I cannot get the term “flash mob” out of my head. Anyone want to turn synchronized cartwheels down the street with me? No? Okay, how about just setting your lawn flamingos outside to enjoy the springtime?  Happy weekend and happy local shopping!

Christmas Shopping

Happy December! Merry Christmas preparations: tree choosing, house decorating, snowflake wishing, cookie baking, present buying, family & friends – what could be better? It’s the best time of the year!

Around the internet you’re sure to see gift guides for all, suggestions for shopping, tips for finding the best deals or coming up with creative gifts. What may be the best tip: shopping locally, of course! By shopping local you can find those creative, unique gifts for all, have a good time, enjoy the local events, support your local economy: the benefits are endless.

Back in 2008, probably before many of you readers were following Preservation in Pink, I wrote a series of Christmas shopping posts called “Christmas Shopping Considerations,” discussing the options for Christmas shopping (online, retail, local, eccentric) and the impacts of our decisions (financially, socially, preservation-esque).

Christmas Shopping Consideration #1: Avoid Big Box Retailers

Christmas Shopping Consideration #2: Can You Shop Locally?

Christmas Shopping Consideration #3: The Case of Online Shopping?

Christmas Shopping Consideration #4: Gifts for the Historic Preservationist in Your Life

Need another couple of good links to get you started on #4?

5 Christmas Gifts for Heritage Lovers

Holiday Gift Guide  (from the National Trust)

Friday Thankfulness + Shop Small Business Saturday

It’s the week of Thanksgiving, and here at Preservation in Pink, each day of the week will be dedicated to a different subject of preservation thankfulness.

Monday Thankfulness. Tuesday Thankfulness. Wednesday Thankfulness. Thanksgiving Thankfulness.

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Today, among the craziness of Black Friday, I am thankful for the small business owners and the people who understand the value and importance of shopping at locally owned business (whether in a downtown, village center or even those in a strip mall). Small businesses keep the money in their local economy and provide good jobs and a better connection to the places we live. Shopping small businesses makes a big difference.

This year, Saturday November 26, is Small Business Saturday, the second annual such day sponsored by American Express.

The 2nd annual Small Business Saturday® is a day dedicated to supporting small businesseson one of the busiest shopping weekends of the year.

On November 26, we’re asking millions of people to Shop Smallsm at their favorite local stores and help fuel the economy. When we all shop small, it will be huge.

Just one purchase – will you make that pledge? Big or small, it will be a huge difference. Check it out on Facebook, too.

Happy Shopping!

O Christmas Tree

Choosing and chopping down a Christmas tree with my family was always one of the best days of the year. Even on Long Island we had Christmas tree farms, so all six of us would pile into the minivan and drive out east to the beautiful, seemingly rural tree farms. Those days remain among my favorite memories. We’d be bundled in jackets, mittens, and boots, just hoping for snowflakes. We ran around the trees and walked as far back as we could on the farm, figuring that was where they kept the best trees. After searching and all choosing different trees, we would finally narrow it down to two and Mom would make the final decision. Knowing how much her young daughters liked tall tress, we always ended up with a tree larger than we could handle. Luckily, our 1957 ranch house was designed with 12′ cathedral ceiling in the living room (technically called the “great room”). A few years Dad actually had to cut about 2′ – 3′ from the bottom of the tree in order to make it fit! One year the tree almost fell off the roof on our way home; we four girls watched it like a hawk after that.

Eventually cutting your own tree became much too expensive, and we resorted to choosing a tree from a lot, though we’d still head out east for it – until we got to be older and we weren’t all home from college in time to participate in the tree picking.  While we can’t all be there for tree picking, we make sure to decorate the tree all together – it’s a bit event with music, cookies, eggnog, too many ornaments, and traditions – even if we have to wait until Christmas Eve to decorate. We’ve had ugly trees, fat trees, tall trees, trees that fell down in the house, and many more. I imagine it will always be a big deal to us.

My dad is a fan of breaking shoes and bustin’ chops, as he would say, so every year he now talks about that nice 8′ artificial tree that he and Mom are going to put in the living room – forget the real trees!  I think he’s kidding, but still, I threaten to not come home if there is a fake tree. Or I’ll just haul one down from Vermont. We do have fake miniature trees in the house, but there is nothing quite like the Christmas tree smell, without which it wouldn’t feel like Christmas as my house.

Yesterday I received a neighborhood email with 5 reasons to buy a real Christmas tree that touch on the environment and the local economy – how perfect!

5 REASONS TO GET A REAL CHRISTMAS TREE

By Clare Innes, Marketing Coordinator – Chittenden Solid Waste District, Redmond Rd, cinnes@cswd.net

Thinking about getting an artificial Christmas tree this year? Here are 5 great reasons to go for the real deal:

1. The average artificial tree lasts 6 to 9 years but will remain in a landfill for centuries.

2. Think a real tree poses a greater fire hazard? Think again. Artificial trees pose a greater fire hazard than the real deal because they are made with polyvinyl chloride, which often uses lead as a stabilizer, making it toxic to inhale if there is a fire. Lead dust can be harmful to children.

3. Every acre of Christmas trees produces enough daily oxygen for 18 people. There are about 500,000 acres of Christmas trees growing in the U.S. Because of their hardiness, trees are usually planted where few other plants can grow, increasing soil stability and providing a refuge for wildlife.

4. North American Christmas tree farms employ more than 100,000 people; 80% of artificial trees worldwide are manufactured in China.

5. The most sustainable options: Buy your tree from a local grower or purchase a potted tree and plant it in your yard after the holidays.

Enjoy the beginning of the holiday season and have fun finding the perfect tree.

Black Friday

It’s the day after Thanksgiving and most of the people I know are exhausted or shopping or decorating for Christmas – possibly all three. Amongst all of the hubbub today and the ensuing chaos of holiday shopping, do your best to remember the local businesses this time of year. Spending your dollars locally will be better for the economy and probably a more pleasant experience than big-box chain stores.

Check out the 3/50 blog for a good post that includes this:

So take a moment and ask yourself: Which three businesses would you miss if they were gone? Stop in today and tell them thanks for doing all they do…for providing what you want and need…for smiling with sincere appreciation when you walk in the door…for providing you an alternative to cold big box stores…and for putting so much back into your community.

And hey–as long as you’re there, pick up a little something. Buy boxed holiday cards at the corner stationery store. Stroll down the sidewalk to the neighborhood coffee shop and grab a cup. Pick out your Christmas tree at a locally owned garden center. Tired of turkey? Snag a bite for dinner at a local cafe.

It’s the only way to assure they’ll still be here next Thanksgiving week, after all.

We can all make a difference, one purchase at a time.

The Good Part about this Bad Economy

The economy isn’t pretty. One glance at a newspaper or a few seconds worth of watching the news will tell you that. It’s not a fun subject, politics aside.  Prices are rising, jobs are being cut, and people are faced with making difficult economic decisions. What this economy leads to or how long the slump lasts is unknown to everyone. What we can control is our own actions and our ways, as a community and as a nation, in which we navigate through the economy.

If you browse through the New York Times collection “Picturing the Recession”, comprised of reader submitted photographs, you’ll see abandoned storefronts, people job searching, and other signs of these tougher times.  Evidence that the once thriving businesses are closing, perhaps earlier than they should have, likely prompts those with successful local businesses and downtown districts to do all that they can to increase and maintain local customers.  But, things are looking up. People are deciding to take a stand and keep their towns and counties from feeling too much of an economic backlash.

Lately I have been pleasantly surprised to hear a lot of talk about shopping locally and what people can do in their backyards and towns in order to save money and help others save money, too.  The local radio station features an ad about shopping in the county, the local magazine features catchy, well designed ads from all local businesses, and editorials in the paper encourage residents to frequent the businesses.  This morning, a listener called in to the radio station to encourage people to do their best to stay local that way dollars will remain in the community.  She said that with the big conglomerates, it’s easy for details to be lost and for business to go bad.

More and more associations are visible in web searches on shopping local, including Stay Local! New Orleans.  This is an extensive organization that lists the businesses, provides media kits, explains what shopping locally means and the benefits of doing so, reports news stories, and much more.  CIBA, or the Corvallis Independent Business Alliance, located in Washington, is a smaller organization than the one in New Orleans, but also provides compelling reasons to shop locally and includes a member directory of businesses. Search for one in your hometown or county. Local businesses don’t have to be in a downtown district; they can be anywhere and can range from restaurants to hardware stores to bookstores to auto repair and more.

Maybe it’s a partial result of First Lady Michelle Obama’s White House vegetable garden and her discussions on eating healthy and at home and the importance of community. Granted, that is food and not everyday shopping, but it is all connected and one good effort can lead to another. But something is sparking everyone’s interest and it brings hope to me.

I doubt that people are considering this a historic preservation related effort, but we preservationists know what the local economy can do for quality of life. And just maybe this economic loop will bring everyone back to focusing on community efforts and life. It will take some time, but every step in this general direction is a good one.  Not everything can be accomplished locally, but hopefully everyone will try for just a few more for themselves. It will save the community, in terms of energy, vitality, and the economy.  

Start with something easy, like a cup of coffee, and go from there.