Boycott Black Friday
Yes, this is really how I sleep, with my hand raised (Am I dreaming about answering a question in school? Probably.) and my hair around my head like a mountain lion. Now you know.
Congratulations, everyone — this weekend, you can take a stand for social justice, just by sleeping in. Oh, and you’ll also be helping your local economy. And the national economy. And you’ll probably take a lot less stress off your family, and be taking a stand against materialism. All by skipping Black Friday.
I know, Black Friday offers good deals or whatever. But think about where those deals come from. Here’s the thing: If you’re offered huge savings, it’s your responsibility to ask yourself why, and to decide if that’s really worth it. If the price is so low it seems like a steal, it probably is — but just who are you stealing from?
You’re not stealing from the corporate retailer. They’ll make up their loss with all the other crap you’re going to impulse buy when you’re in line at the register. You’re stealing from Americans who lost their jobs to outsourced labor. You’re stealing dignity from the people in China and other countries who actually do make your products, because in most cases the labor costs are kept low because the companies are mistreating employees. Your TV is cheap because the people who made it aren’t allowed to watch television, because they’re not allowed to go home at the end of the day. That’s not melodrama. That’s a fact.
But let’s go closer to home. In many cases, the employees at the stores where you’re shopping don’t get health care or a living wage. Employees at Walmart are striking on Black Friday because they’re so mistreated. There’s a lot of debate over this strike, which is at least partially instigated by unions, and whether or not that’s right — I’m not sure if unions are the answer, but I do know there’s a serious problem that needs to be addressed somehow, and Walmart isn’t going to address it until they’re forced to. In my opinion, not even the walk-out will make them to deal with their problems. What will? When we start refusing to buy from retailers who prioritize low prices over human decency or over our own economic growth.
And even when the issues aren’t that serious, Black Friday is pretty terrible for anyone who works at a retail store. Skipping out on Black Friday when you work at a mall or a big chain store usually means losing your job, so employees who have family out of town can’t spend Thanksgiving at home, since they have to report back to work at midnight in most cases. If you’ve ever worked retail on Black Friday, you know that it generally epitomizes the worst of the human condition — there’s a lot of desperation, a lot of inconsideration, and a lot of greed. Basically the opposite of everything the holidays are supposed to stand for.
Several of my friends say they need to shop Black Friday because they can’t afford Christmas otherwise. Oh please. These aren’t basic necessities we’re talking about. Nobody’s offering doorbuster savings on beans or canned soup. You’re standing in line so your kid can have not only a princess doll, but also all her accessories. So your son can get a game system and six games instead of two. I’m not saying that’s all that terrible, but it is terrible to pretend you’re doing it for the economy, or for your budget, or for any other reason than you want to own more stuff.
Do I think you’re a horrible person if you shop Black Friday? No. Some of my best friends are Black Friday shoppers, and I love them and think they’re wonderful. But I do think they may not be totally aware of what their choices mean for other people.
So I’m proposing you boycott Black Friday. Stay in your pajamas, sleep in, and spend the last few hours of all-too-rare family time with your family, instead of with a bunch of discount-hungry zombies (The Shopping Dead?). It’ll probably be the easiest, most relaxed boycott you’ll ever be a part of. And if you really miss all that shopping excitement, save it up for the next day and celebrate Shop Small Saturday, when you can buy local, buy American, and know that the extra money you’re spending is actually doing good in your community.
Shop Small. Tweet Local.
Don’t get excited; it’s only a 4S.
Want small shops to succeed? Make sure you’re talking about them on social media.
Even people who understand that shopping small has a positive impact on the community (supporting building roads and schools as well as providing more authentic, community-focused options) often have trouble actually buying locally, partly because it seems expensive. Well, you know what’s not expensive? Twitter. Facebook. Instagram.
Saying positive things about small shops on the Internet — even just mentioning that you’re visiting a small shop, or tagging us in a Facebook or Instagram post — has a huge impact on our business.
Partly, this is because most people don’t have enough time to take a chance on a small shop they know nothing about. When we go to Target, Best Buy, or Barnes and Noble, we know exactly what to expect. When we head to an independent, there’s a lot of mystery. And we don’t always like to make room in our lives for mystery. When you take time to tell your followers and friends that you visited and loved a small shop, it makes them feel more comfortable trying it for themselves. After all, they like you, and you liked the shop. Chances are, they’ll like it, too.
Basically, tweeting (or Facebooking or Instagramming) about an independent is free advertising for that store. In an economy where budgets are being slashed, and where independents are struggling to keep prices as low as possible in the face of cutthroat national competition, this is really helpful. We just don’t have money for commercials, print ads, or those super-annoying Facebook coupons. (Seriously, how obnoxious are those? I really don’t care if you saved a buck at Academy Sports, and it just makes me wonder why you didn’t go to locally owned Trak Shak.)
For some reason, Birminghamians are pretty great about spreading the word about local restaurants — not so much about other stores. I have lots of friends who come visit me at Church Street, but you wouldn’t know it from their Twitter feeds. It’s so frustrating to see Instagrammed pictures that are taken at the shop that don’t tag us. Those are opportunities to help my store that are routinely missed. (And it seriously breaks my heart when they Facebook about books bought on Amazon.)
I understand that social media isn’t for everyone, and I certainly don’t want anyone to promote a shop that they don’t like. I also get that location tagging takes away some privacy, and I respect the desire to not constantly tell the whole world exactly where you are and what you’re doing. But if you’re active on social media, you are sending a message to everyone who follows you — are you telling them about your favorite local shops, and promoting more community involvement? Or are you parroting offers from Starbucks and Target that actually drive business away from your community?
A tweet is only 140 characters, but it can still be really helpful (or harmful) for local business.
Fading Out: Goodbye, Shop Small
I’ve been sitting at my computer for two hours, trying to figure out how to say goodbye to Shop Small. Today will be my last post here, since I’m concentrating more on my new blog, PostScript, which launched today.
Lots of you have encouraged me to keep writing Shop Small, and I’ll admit that it’s tempting. There are so many things I wanted to write about that I never got around to: I wanted to switch to a local bank or credit union, but I never had time to research the options thoroughly enough to write about them. I was dying to do a post on cash mobs. I haven’t written about (or even been to) Avondale Brewery, and I’d hoped to use the blog as a chance to finally splurge on a dinner at Bottega or Hot and Hot.
So, yes, it’s tempting to keep writing Shop Small. Instead, I’ve chosen to focus on PostScript, a blog that will (hopefully) build my business, Church Street Coffee & Books. And building my business matters, because it helps the local community, both economically and socially — that’s something Shop Small taught me.
So now, Shop Small is up to you. My life has settled into new buying patterns that take me to local shops instead of big box stores, and I never want to go back — the rewards are huge, in everything from my bank account to peace of mind to quality of life. I hope you’ll think about making changes in your life, whether they’re huge resolutions like mine to totally fast from corporate shopping, or just a few small shifts in where you shop.
If reading Shop Small has reminded you to buy locally, please remember that you can do exactly what I’ve done — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and blogs are extremely powerful tools that you can use to build up small businesses. When you shop locally, brag about it. Post a picture, change your status update, check in on Facebook. Build your community with your purchases, then exponentially increase that impact by telling other people about it. As a local business owner, I can tell you that your involvement in social media means the world to us.
Goodbye, and thank you for reading.
Good People Make Good Neighbors
I just got a text telling me that Good People is donating a few cases of beer to Sunday’s PostScript launch party, and I immediately reflected on the beauty of community.
Okay, that’s a total lie. The first thing I did was get excited that I’ll be able to drink Good People for free. The second thing I did was text Zack (my co-worker in the barista trenches), who’d heard a rumor they might donate some beer and asked me to text him the second we knew for sure (beer and free things are pretty much Zack’s favorite things in life). The third thing I did … well, you don’t need to know the details. But, eventually, I did reflect on all that beauty of community stuff.
When I decided to throw this party, I thought it would be a small reception at the store. Then Jim from local record label Communicating Vessels heard me talking about it and volunteered to host the event at their new studio space. And get bands to play. AND take care of other details like a Facebook event and posters.
But the goodwill didn’t stop there. When they heard about the party, City Arts Boutique (next door to the Communicating Vessels space) decided to stay open until 9 p.m. so partygoers can check it out. Some of my favorite bands, Great Book of John and The Green Seed, offered to play. And then, this morning, Good People offered up their amazing beer.
So now, instead of a few people milling around the shop, we’ll have a real party, complete with great bands, free beer, mini Breakup Cookies and Kahlua Cake Balls from Church Street, and lots of my favorite people — plus a pretty great sampling of the best of what local businesses have to offer. All this because a few local business stepped up to help us, not because we’re paying them or because they’re getting anything out of it, but because they’re … well … good people.
The party’s from 7-11 p.m. at 15 55th Place South in Woodlawn — here’s a link to the Facebook invite. I hope you’ll stop by!
A Toast to the Future: Goodbye Shop Small, Hello PostScript!
Why is this picture so yellow? I’m hoping it’s the reflection from the golden glow of my future! More likely, the light was just weird in my kitchen.
Of all the issues I’ve talked about over the past year on Shop Small, the most controversial has been my attitude toward Amazon. It’s easy to say that the reason I hate Amazon is because they’re my competition (I’m a bookseller), but that’s an oversimplification. After all, I also sell coffee, but I don’t vilify Starbucks (far from it — I’ve actually praised them in several blog posts).
But why do I take Amazon’s actions so personally, if it’s not because of my business? It’s because, in my opinion, Amazon embodies the worst of big box stores. They bully their way into markets and slash prices too low, giving consumers a distorted view of a products’ worth: For example, Amazon sells their Kindle Fire for less than it costs to actually make the tablet, then runs television commercials with snobby women in beach chairs implying that iPad buyers are getting ripped off. They get artificially low margins partly by undermining their competition, and partly by underpaying the people making, packaging and shipping their products.
Of course, many businesses would love to be in Amazon’s position. I’m sure Apple would like to control the tablet market. Clearly, Barnes and Noble (or even my little shop) would be overjoyed if our competition disappeared. I’m not pretending that any business, small or big, has pure motives. But, in Amazon’s case, their entire business strategy is to manipulate consumers, kill competition by any means, and control the market. Any business is dangerous when total control is the core of its strategy.
I detest these practices in any market, but in the business of books, it’s particularly harmful. I’m spending my life selling books, not because they have sentimental value to me (although they do, of course), but because they’re important to society.
Books teach us different ways of looking at the world. They communicate new ideas, challenge our beliefs, give us an incredibly intimate way to experience another person’s perspective. They help us grow into better citizens, better family members, better people. Easy access to ideas is a huge part of who we are as a country (that whole “freedom of speech” thing is moot if no one is allowed to hear it). So, yeah, I think the fact that one company is trying to manipulate the flow of information, that they’re preying on people’s love of discounts in order to control what ideas we’re exposed to, is a pretty big deal. We should give no one total control of our books: not publishers, not government, not independent bookstores — and certainly not Amazon.
As I’ve reflected on my year of shopping small, I’ve finally decided what my next blog project will be. Because I think books are so important, and because I think the battle of independents versus Amazon is such a great Small Shop case study, my new blog, PostScript Blog, will focus on books — kind of.
I say “kind of,” because it will really be about more that books. There will be book reviews, and I’ll talk about publishing (and Amazon) sometimes. But mostly, it’ll just be about interesting stuff — movies, music, shopping, community — and the way books intersect with those parts of our lives. I’ll write a lot, but I also have a great team of writers and artists contributing some amazing work I’m really excited about sharing. Plus, for the true Shop Small fan, you’ll be able to shop locally through my new blog, because all the books and ebooks bought through PostScript will come through Church Street Coffee & Books.
PostScript goes live Monday (you can follow PostScript on Facebook or bookmark the link now), and I hope that you’ll follow me there, and tell your friends and followers if you like what you read. Monday will also be my last post at Shop Small, and, although I’m very sad to leave here, I’m proud of what I’ve done and so humbled by the welcome you’ve all given me. If you’d like to meet up and say goodbye to Shop Small and/or hello to PostScript, join me Sunday night at our launch party — click here for details.
My Secret to Buying Dresses? Shop for Pants.
My new dress proves that “putting a bird on it” isn’t always a bad idea.
Doing Shop Small has been a great exercise of actually paying attention to what’s in the stores all around me, since I can be a little dense about noticing my surroundings unless I’m paying special attention. (One day in high school, I asked my sister when they built the new bank at the corner of our street. She looked at me like I was nuts and answered, “Five years ago.”)
Anyway, on one of my Columbus-esque expeditions around Mountain Brook, I stopped in a strange-sounding shop called The Pants Store. With the exception of jeans, I don’t wear a lot of pants. Maybe it has to do with attending an uber-conservative high school that taught me that any woman who wears pants is a super-slut feminist bent on single-handedly destroying the American family.* Or maybe I’m just a lazy dresser and I find it easier to choose one dress than two matching pieces of clothing. The point is, the name “Pants Store” never seemed particularly enticing.
But, in the spirit of discovery (and because I glimpsed a cardigan sale through the window), I finally went in — and discovered lots of cute dresses, skirts and shirts, as well as great books and a little bit of jewelry. None of it was dirt-cheap, but it was all really reasonably priced, and I walked to the dressing room with an arm full of outfits. (I walked out of the shop with only two, proving I am an amazingly disciplined, saint-like example of self-restraint.)
Lots of people have asked me where to buy clothes locally. There are tons of fantastic boutiques in Birmingham, but I find them a bit intimidating. Turns out, The Pants Store, which started as a warehouse full of pants in Leeds, is more approachable than your average boutique, but they still have a very strong selection (click here for a photo gallery including a butterfly shirt that would make a great birthday gift for your favorite blogger, hint-hint). Plus, I like the irony in telling people I got my new dress from a store named after pants.
* Wondering who votes for Santorum? It’s these people.
Bottletree: Good for Bands, Good for Birmingham
Fantastic local band Persons playing at Bottletree last December. They’re also playing Bottletree this Thursday.
My Facebook and Twitter feeds have been blowing up with this article about Bottletree, and how it could do great things for the bigger Birmingham business community.
There are lots of ways we can hope to stimulate more growth in Birmingham. We can try to pass legislation. We can build baseball stadiums downtown. We can fund more parks, throw more festivals, be more dedicated to keeping our city clean and safe. These are all great ideas.
But we sometimes forget that strong, unique businesses can also attract new businesses, because they help establish new markets and show that innovative thinking and a commitment to doing things the right way can pay off. We forget that prioritizing people as well as profits (as Bottletree has, by treating both their customers and their bands well) is a strong business strategy. Most of all, I think we forget that art, whether it be paintings, photography, movies, music or books, is an essential part of who we are as human beings, and that a commitment to protecting art and artists can actually promote city growth.
Thanks to everyone at Bottletree for doing your jobs so well, even when the task seemed thankless. I hope all the retweets, reposts and blogs you see today show you how much your work means to all of us, both for our city’s future and for Birmingham today.
What Will You Make with Your Money?
My business partner, Cal, and I were working behind the bar today when we overheard a couple of women blatantly planning to get book ideas from us and buy the books from Amazon later. When this kind of thing happens, my reaction is usually to shoot the offending customers piercing looks and tweet about how mad I’m getting. But Cal just shook his head sadly and said, “Don’t they understand you’re creating something with your purchasing? Why not create something beautiful?”
This simple statement blew me away: We’re creating something with our purchases. I love the idea that shopping can actually be an act of building, instead of just an exercise in acquisition. That our wallets can be paint brushes on the canvas of our communities, bringing about a picture that’s beautiful and unique.
What are we creating with our purchases? We can build communities that have the money to improve education, fix roads and make our lives more full … or we can create wealth in other states, or other countries, that will never make its way back to our neighborhoods. We can create jobs for our neighbors, our we can use our dollars to create inhumane working conditions by supporting companies that outsource their labor. We can create more room for innovation and invention, and build unique and authentic shopping communities, or we can buy from big box stores and fill the world with more monotony.
I hope we all start to realize that, when we spend money, we’re more than consumers. We’re urban planners. We’re innovators. We’re artists, and, when we go shopping, we have the ability to make something beautiful.
Happy Mardi Gras!
Carnival season culminates today with Fat Tuesday, a time to enjoy your favorite treats one last time before giving them up for the Lenten season. I have a confession to make about Lent — I’ve never really observed it religiously (I grew up Baptist, and we’re not really that into sacrifice*), but I often do give up something during this time of fasting. I think it’s worthwhile to remind myself that life is about more than the junk (food and otherwise) that I sometimes use to distract myself.
This Lent, why not try giving up big box shopping? It might be cheating a little, since it’s not actually a very big sacrifice — you’ll actually be treating yourself to great food and fantastic shopping that we have available locally. But it would do a lot of good in our community, and it might help set some habits for small shopping that would have an impact even after Lent is over. And shopping locally certainly supports community programs and the shopkeepers who work hard to serve us every day. To me, at least, a decision to help people is a change that can have significant spiritual impact.
If you’re not planning on observing Lent, it’s still fun to get into the spirit of feasting by celebrating Fat Tuesday, and there are lots of local places to do just that. Have lunch at El Barrio, cupcakes from Dreamcakes, treat yourself to dinner at Bettola, or visit one of the many restaurants and shops that have versions of traditional Louisiana or Mardi Gras food like gumbo, crawfish and King Cakes.
Happy Mardi Gras — and happy small shopping!
* Don’t get mad at me, Baptist friends. This is a joke. Kind of.
The Bag Lady
Since I’m shopping big now, I had my sister give me a ride to Target last week. She made lots of fun of me because she said I was like a woman on a mission, buying all the things I’ve been waiting a year to pick up. My favorite lotion (Yes to Carrots brand)? Check. New makeup bag with tiny little cosmetics to put inside (I lost my last one in October)? Check. New belt? Got it.
Of course, I also picked up plenty of stuff that I didn’t need. Why buy one dress when they’re so cheap I could buy two? And who cares if that black purse wasn’t exactly what I needed — my old purse broke in November, and this one was only $8. I’ll take it!
Well, I should’ve thought twice on that last one. This is the problem with superstores and me: I always buy more than I have on my list, and I talk myself into buying things I don’t like or need because they’re inexpensive.
I’ll admit, I love my new dresses (I’m wearing one in this hastily taken pic). But the black purse was way too shiny (I mean, mirror-shiny … what’s the deal with that?), and I can only fit one book at a time inside. ONE book? I need at least one fiction and one non-fiction choice at all times, thank-you-very-much. Also, this new purse doesn’t go inside my Vespa, quite inconvenient when it rains (I have to wear it under my raincoat and look like The Hunchback of Notre-Church-Street).
Shopping at locally owned Charm this weekend, I found a much better black purse that actually holds all my stuff (I know because the owner, Chatham, let me empty my purse into it to make sure my mini-library fit inside). It also rides comfortably in my Vespa seat, and it’s a million times (approximate value) cuter than the one I got from Target.
Plus, it turns out my coworker, Jenna, had bought the same Target purse that I did, but in a much better looking (and less shiny) brown. Hers was bound for the thrift store, so she gave it to me instead. I ended up getting three purses for the price of two (or one and a half — that Target bag was certainly cheap), and a few life lessons, too: 1) shopping at Target will always cost me more money unless I learn to resist impulse buys (unlikely). 2) Target purses (and dresses) will fall apart and likely be bound for the thrift store sooner than a quality item would. And 3) never buy a purse you can check your reflection in. All in all, not bad for a day of shopping, both big and small.