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.

Talking Chain Stores & Big Boxes

Let’s talk about chain stores & big box stores. Let’s begin with a bunch of questions for thought about the location of chains & big boxes.

Chain establishments are sometimes inevitable. We all know that. We see that as we travel the country (and world). And most of us cannot avoid chains completely. (If you do, please share your secrets). When we accept that fact on some level, we are left with the next step: how to make chain stores work with our communities, specifically the built environment.

Remember this Dollar General found in historic Fair Haven, VT? Would you shop here? Why or why not?

Maybe proper location is one answer. That goes hand-in-hand with proper zoning and a community master plan. Does the location of a chain store or big box store matter to you? In other words, if you do shop or eat at chain establishments (and most of us do, however infrequently), are you more likely to patronize one in a downtown/village/neighborhood setting or one in a strip mall or in its own structure? And are you more likely to be a customer if you feel the building fits with the built environment? Or less likely if you find the building to be intrusive and inappropriate?

Smaller chains might be a better example for this question, those such as Starbucks or Subway or hardware stores like Ace or Aubuchon. If you see one of those businesses in a downtown, would you be inclined to shop there? Are you then more likely to ease up a bit and shop at one that is outside of downtown or in a less than ideal location?

Do you have a pet peeve for a particular chain? For instance, I am perturbed entirely when giant drug stores insist on having their own building and parking lots. If you have a particular big box that you always avoid, at what lengths do you have to go to do so?

If you’d like to contribute to this discussion, one question or all, please answer in the comments.

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.

Wholesale vs. Big Box Retail

Take your pick: are you someone who despises Wal-Mart or has a moral confliction about Target, or avoids Starbucks whenever possible, or someone who glares at Best Buy? Yet, at the same time we shop at big name grocery stores, without having big box guilt.  No one’s perfect, right?

Everyone has his or her own pet peeves when it comes to shopping; we pick our battles. Yet, regardless of our shopping habits, we all still want a good deal. If we’re not careful about money and if we don’t spend it wisely, we’ll end up without money and things go downhill from there.  So, we bargain shop.

If you’re shopping for a big family or a big party, wholesale retailers do offer good deals; buying in bulk is almost always cheaper. Yet, obviously, this is the sort of thing that hastened the decline of locally owned businesses that cannot buy and sell in bulk.  

While Wal-Mart and Target and Kmart are battles of their own sort, how do they compare to wholesale retailers like Costco, Sam’s Club, and BJ’s? The wholesalers offer even better “value” for your money, or so we are led to believe.  My disdain for big box retailers is well known, but I have never been that bothered by places like Costco and BJ’s. (Sam’s Club, as it owned by Wal-Mart does bother me. Like I said, we all pick our battles).

Thus, I need to ask: do you consider wholesale retailers to be the same as big box retailers? Are they bringing the same havoc and effects to our towns and communities?  After all, they are even bigger “box” buildings, have acres of asphalt, and would definitely put similar companies out of business. Or, is it a completely different method  and experience of shopping?  I have attempted to find research on the subject, but haven’t had any luck. If you can speak on the subject (factually or opinionated), please do!

Gifts Galore

Black Friday: something you may avoid or something you may adore. Shopping online is certainly a hassle free way to shop today. If you’re doing such, I suggest supporting the Cornell Preservation Studies Student Organization.   Check out their shop on CafePress, where you can find the slogan “Preservationists Make it Last Longer” accompanied by a house illustration.  Proceeds will support the CPSSO’s work weekend in the spring.  From Anne Turcotte, a preservation student at Cornell and a fellow UMW graduate, shared this link and the following information:

The house in the illustration is “Big Vic,” a plan popularized by George F. Barber, who operated an architecture firm which sold mail-order house plans out of DeKalb, Illinois in the late 19th century. Built versions of Big Vic can be found all across the country. The illustration and the phrase were developed by alumni of the Cornell Historic Preservation Planning program.

The mousepad version of Preservationists Make it Last Longer, from CPSSO on CafePress

The mousepad version of Preservationists Make it Last Longer, from CPSSO on CafePress

Thanks, Anne!

Christmas Shopping Consideration #2

A series of posts considering the options for Christmas shopping (online, retail, local, eccentric) and the impacts of our decisions (financially, socially, preservation-esque). This is post 2 of 4. See considerations #1, #3, #4.

Consideration 2:  Can you Shop Locally?

I know, I know, I ramble on about shopping in your local downtown and avoiding big box retailers.  You might roll your eyes and call me a crazy idealist.  Okay, fine. But, I am acknowledging that there are instances when people cannot shop local businesses.  For example, some people live in the middle of nowhere (as in, hours to stores) or people live in suburbia (as in, chain stores have taken over everything), or the local downtown caters to the wealthy, the tourists, or those who like tchachkas or really expensive clothes and décor that normal people cannot afford.  And in all honestly, those chain stores sometimes (not always!) beat the local prices.

If one of these fits your situation, then you probably are calling me crazy. Anyway… Now what do you do?

How to Shop Locally.

Consider turning to the world of online shopping (also a separate consideration).   Sites like Etsy, DaWanda, and GLCMall are online stores set up and “owned” by individuals who have a specific craft and sell their work. Craft? By crafts, I do not mean only potpourri pillows and candles and knitted scarves (though some people like such things).  On these sites you can buy artwork, jewelry, clothing, furniture, leather goods, picture frames, kids’ toys, stationery, Christmas ornaments…the list never ends. Etsy even has a search by location function.  Dawanda is based in Germany. DaWanda and GLCMall seem to rely more on crafts than Etsy, but all sites have interesting products.

Take a look and you will see that handmade doesn’t mean grandma style crafty or elementary school art class.  I only know one person who owns a shop on Etsy. Check out Jennifer’s shop for picture frames, mirrors, and furniture.

Why consider such sites? Well, consider this: You may not be able to shop locally, but if you are supporting self employed businessmen and women (the artisans, if you will), then you are at least part of the local economy and not just corporate America. With the search by location feature, you can choose which region to support. What a wonderful idea.

You could also consider shopping ahead of time, when you’re traveling or visiting friends and family. And of course, some good “googling” can usually help you find what you want. 

What about those voids that can’t be filled locally?

No, some items are not sold in locally owned stores because that is no longer how the economy works.  I always think of electronics for this example or mundane necessities like random household cleaning items. We do have our limits. But, that does not mean that presents (aside from electronics) cannot be found. The point is to try. After all, if everyone could just put in some effort then, combined, we can all make a difference and help the local businesses.

Happy shopping! 

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Next in the series: online shopping…

Christmas Shopping Consideration #1

A series of posts considering the options for Christmas shopping (online, retail, local, eccentric) and the impacts of our decisions (financially, socially, preservation-esque). This is post 1 of  4. See considerations  #2, #3, #4.

Consideration 1: Avoid big box retailers.

Christmas decorations popped up in stores long before Halloween, some radio stations are already playing Christmas music, and stores already have holiday sales.  I don’t know about you, but I love Christmas…AFTER Thanksgiving. Before then, I consider it my personal horror movie. I love the fall and winter season. They should each have their own season rather than Labor Day, sort of fall, Christmas.  If you haven’t been, you are about to find your mailbox and Sunday paper  bombarded with flyers and catalogs every week, often from the biggest chain stores like Wal-Mart and Kmart and Target.

When you choose to begin your Christmas shopping is on your terms. But, when Christmas season arrives, do you consider where you are shopping? Are you more likely to cave and shop at chain superstores? Or do you look for more unique gifts from boutiques, local and regional stores, festivals, etc.? 

The economy is suffering and holiday shopping is likely to reflect recent economic trends. Consumers will probably shop less, but still shop at the discount retailers like the giants of Wal-Mart, Kmart, and Target.  Local stores and even smaller chain businesses are going to have a hard time keeping pace, I would imagine.

What does this have to do with historic preservation?

While the subject of giant retail stores has many tangents, let’s stick with the basic tenets.  As preservationists we typically want to support local businesses – those that support, appreciate, and create communities, those that comprise downtowns and those who have roots in the area.  Avoiding chain businesses is something that we generally strive for year round, but it might become more difficult when you need to shop for multiple people and spend a lot of money. Temptations might be rising.

Here are a few reasons for avoiding those chain stores:

1.       Shopping locally will keep money in your community.  Money in the community keeps business thriving, which translates into a good quality of life for everyone around.

2.       Local stores will probably be less crowded than the materialistic inducing megastores.  Less crowded stores mean a more pleasant shopping experience for you, which equals enjoying the holiday season and fewer cases of buyer’s remorse.

3.       Many downtowns will have special holiday shopping weekends with store specials and other incentives like snacks and cider.

4.       Employees are usually more helpful in local businesses and can spend more time helping you, when needed.

5.       With all of the scares in children’s toys and food production, you will have an easier time finding answers to those questions at smaller stores.

6.       If you normally shop locally and suddenly cave to large retailers for the holidays, then you’re not really sticking to your beliefs about preservation, are you?

7.       By shopping at chains stores during the most profitable time of the year for many businesses, you’re only supporting the chain. They don’t need to earn more money, if we’re comparing earnings here.

I could go on and on with reasons as to why local shopping is better for the community (read: your life), but we all know that dollars spent in local stores benefit your community.  If you’re up for some deep research, read this report on the affects of big box retail in Austin, TX (from FullCircle). See this blog post or this newspaper article for another list of reasons to shop locally. Chain stores represent corporate America. Yes, America is based on capitalism, but that should mean that everyone has a chance, not that only a few monopolies have a chance to make a living.  

Local Options

Local stores do not just mean “unique gifts,” if you’re not into that sort of thing.  There can be local and regional sporting good stores, toy stores, book stores, hardware stores, etc.  If you live in a city, there will be no end to stores, museum stores (some of the best kids’ gifts, by the way), festivals, flea markets, and other varieties. A place such as a flea market or a festival will probably have unique handmade items, antiques, and typical bulk items from kitchen items to pocketbooks and shoes to home décor, etc.  And okay, sometimes you can’t find everything you need locally, but don’t automatically rely on the big box retailers.

Please, before you shop, consider shopping locally or regionally.

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Next in the series: what if you can’t shop locally?

Ace Hardware

(This post is inspired by Elyse).

Ace Hardware stores provide a great option to the typical Lowe’s and Home Depot stores (and insert other big box retailers here).  These stores, although national, are individually owned by the local store owners.  Corporate shares are not publicly traded.  See the faq page on the Ace Hardware site.  http://www.acehardware.com/corp/index.jsp?page=faq

And come on, how many times have you been in Lowe’s or Home Depot and not been able to find help with what you need? My experiences have always been better in smaller hardware stores like Ace.

The next time you need a hardware store, skip the big boxes and support your local community by going to Ace.*  As an added bonus, as pointed out by Elyse, Ace Hardware offers national gift cards.  This means that if you want to give a gift card you can buy it from Ace in your hometown and your friend can spend it elsewhere.  (Just be sure to indicate it needs to be nationally accepted).

Thanks, Elyse, for the “how to live as a preservationist” tip!

*I would suggest visiting a hardware store that is 100% local, but that is not always an option so Ace would make a good second.