Why shop and why shop local this holiday season?
If you are like me, you have been looking online for deals, checking prices, sale dates and watching to see when those items you know your kids want or that great idea you had for a gift for your spouse or parent will go on sale. The thought in the back of my mind is that it has to go on sale. After all, everything will go on sale this year. Retailers are hurting, customers are hurting more if that’s possible, and so everything will be cheaper.
That may be true. It probably will be true. But what I know more than what I can’t afford to buy is that I can still make a difference for my family and my community this holiday season. My son will likely get more presents than any one child needs in a month. He has lots of people who think of him at the holidays. We are lucky. I don’t say that lightly. It is true we are rich in many ways and very fortunate.
It is also true that even in these tough times, I will find a way to buy him one or two toys that he really wants and one or two that I want him to have. One of the ways I am preparing for this holiday season is by visiting local stores (some with my son) to check out what they have and what we can afford. I have found (no, this isn’t rocket science) that once my son sees something, he wants it. More importantly, once he sees something in real life, he tends to forget about the over-exposed toys seen in TV commercials and begins to long for the awesome Lego set he saw at O’Doodles.
I have thought a lot this year about why I should shop at all. Like many Americans I have very little spending money. After years of living without any increase in salary while simultaneously enduring the rising cost of basic services and needs from doctor’s visits co-pays to gasoline, I am struggling to find any extra cash to spend on Hanukkah.
The first step I took was to be smart. As I mentioned above, I started visiting local stores, then sat down and came up with a list of what to get whom and where to get it. Then I started my shopping weeks ago, doing a little at a time.
I’ve tried to think of ways to pair a nice gift with helping out a local establishment. Not to divulge too much (my mother does read the paper), but I knew I wanted to get my mother a gift certificate to a restaurant. I went online and found local restaurants that participate in discount Web sites where you can purchase a gift certificate for 40 percent off the face value. Perfect. Now if I choose, I can get her a slightly nicer pair of slippers (she already knows I’m getting her these – my family believes in exchanging lists – thank God!).
The thing about the holidays for me is simple. Yes, it is overly commercialized and yes this year there is depressingly little money to spend, but it is a chance to do some good. Many of the gifts any of us give or receive are likely to be the only discretionary spending we do all year. And in many cases our gifts will double as necessities (I know at least half of mine will).
Even more importantly, every dollar spent at a locally owned, locally operated business will matter to a member of the community, the community as a whole and, ultimately, to you and your family. So if you can, shop, and shop locally.
Christmas gift books for the rescue-minded, Part 1
Let’s start with this notion: In looking for a Holiday gift book, there is no reason on earth to chain your mind to the New York Times Notable Books of 2009 list. Nor to lists associated with the National Book Award, the Booker, or the Pulitzer Prize. Nor with any other lists of books gleaned from the Internet, newspapers, magazines or television talk shows. You haven’t read most of the books on last year’s lists yet! Nor the year before’s.
Rule No. 1: A book does not have to be current to be worth reading.
A quality book remains worth reading even if it’s out of print. When you think about it, a book is merely a conversation with another person, a chance to hear his or her story, listen to his or her thoughts, learn what life was, or is, like in a place and time you’ll never be able to visit otherwise. That story remains worth hearing even if you were absent the day it got told.
Part of the reason people like to read what’s current lies in the human need to want shared experiences. There’s great pleasure to be had whenever you’re fortunate enough to run into someone else who’s read a book you’ve read. Such conversations are to be savored, even more than our usual exchanges about who’s seen what movies? Been to such-and-such restaurant? Or caught some program that was on TV the other day?
Rule No. 2: You’ll probably be the only one you know (ever) who’s read this book.
Sadly though, with some of the books I’ll recommend next week, the odds of your ever running into someone else who’s also read it are quite slim. You’ll have to accept that you’ll probably live and die with certain unshared moments of beauty or wisdom lodged in your brain. The living part can be quite fun. I don’t know much about the other.
Rule No. 3: Out-of-Print authors need love too.
You would think that getting a book published and into the bookstores would be enough to satisfy an author’s soul forever. It’s not. Authors want to be read. But if they don’t catch the first wave of buyer interest, they’re removed from the stores to make room for whatever it is that may be the next hot book. As you know, a lot of good music never made the Top 40.
On any given night in America you may hear an unknown trio playing a neighborhood lounge whose music is as good as, or maybe even better than, the stuff getting jammed in your ears at the health club or in a trendy boutique. Just so, many worthy authors now languish in obscurity, like treasure on a sunken ship deep beneath the waves. You can give them a new life by finding them.
Rule No. 4: Love doesn’t have to mean paying retail.
My list of suggestions comes next week, but even before that: If you are a reader: Go help Walk A Crooked Mile Books (7423 Devon St. Mt. Airy — Devon and Gowen Streets — the Mt. Airy train station building of the Septa R7 line. 215-242-0854). Also delightfully seen on Youtube.com. I’m recommending them because they are financially struggling and need a large influx of customers. They will close in January if they do not have a good December.
Maybe replaced by a bank, if the area trend continues (I’m just scare-mongering here. I’ve not heard any rumors to that effect. But I’m the sort who usually gets run over by a train before the rumor of its approach has reached me.)
This bookshop is one of the last old bookshops in Philadelphia and the only one in the Chestnut Hill, Mt. Airy, Germantown, Roxborough, Springfield, Wyndmoor, etc. area. They sell terrific old books, cheap. Cheap means they need to sell a lot of books. Help them out. Go there and be cheap. Or call them and ask them to send you 10 cheap paperback mysteries you can rewrap as Christmas presents... stocking stuffers. They take credit cards.
They are good folks who have contributed tremendously to the community by supporting the arts, especially musicians, over the years they have been in business. Their business model — selling books in a bookstore — is hopelessly outmoded. They make pterodactyls look like stealth fighters. But support them anyway so that you won’t need to tell your grandchildren about the good old days, back when you could go into a shop to browse for used books.
But wait, there’s more: Don’t go into Walk a Crooked Mile, or any other used bookstore, hoping to find a specific title. The odds are severely against you. Go in with an open mind and buy something you never knew existed, just as you do at Borders or Barnes & Noble. Or a bagful of two-dollar mysteries or paperback fiction. They have a strong children’s book section too.
If you do need or want a specific book, however, if they don’t have it, they’ll track it down for you and see that you get it before whatever holiday you’re celebrating.
There are a few other worthy stores in our area that need your support too, but acting on the principle of triage I am trying to let you know how urgent the situation is at Walk A Crooked Mile books.
On Germantown Avenue, at the bottom of the Hill, go under the bridge, up to the next light (Gowen Avenue) and make a left. Or go out Stenton to Gowen and make a right. The bookstore is a few blocks down, either way. And it’s a chance to see a Frank Furness-designed railroad station delightfully turned into a bookstore.
Commentary: Special surroundings add to happy holiday memories
One of my favorite sections of the now-defunct House and Garden magazine was the monthly welcoming essay by Dominique Browning, the editor. I truly enjoyed it because her personal emotion and passion were clearly evident and unabashedly displayed with every topic that she covered.
One month it was the look and feel of her beloved home after her husband of many years had filed for divorce. Another month she described how her son’s bedroom looked and felt after he had left for college. She often spoke of her garden in just the same reflective way.
It always struck me how she could praise the qualities of a Japanese maple, while describing the recent picnic she shared beneath it with her friends. She just had a way of making every space, every plant, every shadow of light, every painting, take on an extraordinarily personal relationship to herself and what was going on in her life at a certain period of time.
Because surroundings are such a large part of my life, her essays often echoed feelings and emotions easily identified and always thought provoking. One thought that would always cross my mind after reading one of her essays was how brave she was to expose such personal attachments to chairs and tables, always in relation to some personal issue or challenge that was present in her life at that time.
The essays were enjoyable because inevitably I knew that she was expressing something that we all often experience at one time or another, or may feel sometime in the future. I also often wondered how others viewed these musings, as I often thought that putting so much emotional emphasis on inanimate objects could be considered silly and maybe even materialistic.
However, from working in the design field for as long as I have, it seems that all of my clients do put a certain amount of importance on the style of a chair, the hand of a fabric, or how sunlight may affect the shadows in a room. But I also know that some will put no thought whatsoever into such complexities.
These are people whose lives may be filled with children’s activities, family matters, health issues and economic concerns. How a fabric is positioned on a sofa does not play a part in their lives in the least, nor should it.
So then, why do some of us think so intently about our surroundings, obsess about the color of the carpet or the texture of the wallpaper? And why will that dining room table always remind us of that Thanksgiving dinner in 1972, while other people may not even be able to tell if the table has four legs or a pedestal base.
For many people, the things and spaces that surround them in their lives are all emotionally related, intertwined with familial relationships, friends’ celebrations and marriage commitments. All have emotional responses that evoke memories of people, places and events of times past and more likely than not bring on a smile.
Knowing that, some will say that this is just plain wrong and you shouldn’t put so much emphasis on things that are around you. You should think about the future, not the past.
Still, I guess that like Dominique Browning, many of us find joy and even gain strength from these reflections. So this holiday season, take a look around the kitchen, fix in your mind the person standing behind that stove, memorize the seating arrangement at the dining room table, remember the conversation around it, and make sure to notice if it has four legs or a pedestal base! Happy holidays.
Patricia M. Cove is principal of Patricia Marian Cove, Architectural Interiors and Design. Her home will be featured as part of the Chestnut Hill Holiday House Tour on Dec. 5.