In the 20 years that I have been writing this column, the landscape of retail shopping has changed dramatically.
Where once we looked eyeball to eyeball with the person who sold us something, today we push a button and a few days later the goods show up on our doorstep.
Debit and credit cards have replaced cash and checks. Gift cards are de rigeur when we can’t figure out what to buy someone.
But what has held steady, in my mind, is a big piece of what makes the heart and soul of a community: small business owners.
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I feel blessed to be walking down Main Street in Belleville on an overcast, chilly Tuesday because I know that when I go into, for example, Grimm & Gorly Florists & Gifts, I can hear owners Jeff and Zach Bair in the back room yacking it up with others as they work. Eventually, they both come out, hug me and wish me a Happy Thanksgiving. Trust me, that never happens at the mall.
They don’t ask if I’m working; I think they would have hugged me no matter if I found something for this column or not. I admire their amazing Christmas in white display at the front of the store and they tell about some of their design work. We chat. They go back to work and I do, too.
I leave and I’m not so cold anymore. That’s what shopping in my community is all about.
So, all of this leads up to Shop Small Saturday. I am no expert on Black Friday. There are plenty of apps and website aggregators to fill you in on which big-box stores you should shop for the best bargains.
During the next few weeks as we move headlong toward Christmas, I’m sure I will mention some of them. But for today, I want you to spend a few extra minutes finding that parking spot in your downtown. Bundle up if you have to. Then, do some shopping the old-fashioned way, where the people you talk to know their merchandise, stand behind it and the money you spend doesn’t go far.
Here are a few places I visited Tuesday in downtown Belleville:
While you may not make beer or wine at home, you might want to stop in Happy Hop Homebrew & Gourmet for a set of four silicone Get Smashed drink coasters (($15.99). They’re oversized and look like smooshed roadkill, but in a cartoonish way. Somebody you know will want them.
I’ll say it again, Ben’s has the best intelligent and educational toy and game section for kids. You can pick up a Rubik’s Cube for $14.99 or a cool Magnutto easel box filled with thick foam magnetic pieces you arrange on the inside lid. Make a Mood (for kids 5 and up) and Make a Pet and Make a Dino (3 and up) All have at least 100 pieces and cost $24.99.
Need a gift under $20? Check Circa Boutique for a Creature Cup ($15). The ceramic cups are big and inside are three-dimensional creatures, from spiders and sharks to lobsters and elephants. If you live in Edwardsville, visit the shop there.
I got a chance to talk to Christy Vineyard, co-owner of Local Lucy’s, while I was out. The shop relocated this fall to further down East Main Street, where her many local vendors have lots more room to show off their talents at everything from children’s clothes to jewelry. What caught my eye was an oversized set of Scrabble-like tiles formed into names and turned into a wall plaque. The wood tiles are $4 each and Christy said there is a two-week turnaround to have the piece made.
Three things I found that I liked at Grimm & Gorly:
1.A package of four miniature Santa Bottle Hats ($2.99).
2. Pretty little white wood signs with silvery lettering ($3.99) with saying like “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas.”
3. One-of-a kind-metal moose that would be perfect for the front porch of a country house. He has pitchfork tines for antlers, tarnished silver bells for hooves, a paint brush for a tail, what looks like a mailbox as his torso and plenty of nuts and bolts that hold him together. He’s $123.99. His lookalike cousin is a moose head wall plaque for $62.99.