Myths about “Buying Local” for the Holidays

When I start making my holiday shopping list, my first instinct is to go online. In fact, with all the personality quizzes and free shipping deals, it seems more convenient. But, then I remember that the holidays should include enjoying experiences that make memories. In the local Lynchburg area, great effort is put into decorating the shops and planning holiday events. Also, I consider the economic and environmental impact of purchasing presents locally. Therefore I am attempting to buy all (or most) of my presents from local shops or artists.

Even though I sell handmade goods, I understand the  hesitation to buy local. So, below are several misconceptions about “buying local” for the holidays.

1. Vendors don’t accept returns.

Many vendors and local stores post signs stating “no returns.” While I appreciate the difficulty of returning one-of-a-kind creations, I have starting asking for specifics on return policies. For example, I found a handmade garlic dish for my mom at a local shop. Even though the sign said, “No Returns,” I explained my gift situation to the store owner. She told me that she typically didn’t accept returns because she worked on a consignment system. However, she said if my mom didn’t want the gift, I could bring it back and work out an exchange with the shop. My mom loved the dish so, it didn’t matter. And I had the comfort of knowing I could exchange it.

2. The quality raises questions.

Sure, there are some greedy people out there but, most artists and artisans take great ownership for their work. The community is small and their reputation is fragile. Since everyone is human, mistakes are possible. However, since you are dealing with an individual creator, not a corporation, you can go directly to the source to make it right. As an artist, I would prefer replace a flawed item than ignore the issue. In fact, I have replaced items that were broken through accidents or misfortune because I value the customer-vendor relationship. In general, quality concerns with local shops are ultimately lower than shopping at a big box store or online.

3. Custom ordering becomes a burden.

While custom ordering seems like a neat idea, it also obligates the gift recipient. If you are not sure about commissioning a piece, get the recipient involved. The experience of ordering can be as fun as receiving the final gift. Personally, I like to test the waters by mentioning the artist to the recipient and proposing it as a possible future gift. If the recipient is interested, I set up a call for all of us. Talk about a thoughtful gift that comes from the heart!

4. Tools and supplies fill my own basement.

This is sometimes true. Other times, you really cannot replicate the work of the original maker. Hence, we have Pinterest Fails.  If you want to make it because you enjoy working with your hands, I would encourage it. If you just want to save money, consider supporting a local artist instead. After buying the tools and supplies, you probably will not save a significant amount in comparison to the vendor’s price.

5. Online shopping ensures the best price.

This also may be true but, it side-steps supporting your local community. Also, shopping online not as fun and personal. Instead of interacting with a real person in a festive environment, you are sitting alone on a computer with your credit card. Making these connections is definitely in the spirit of the season.

Last Year’s Haul

As stated on the Verderamade facebook page, I attempted to purchase all of my holiday gifts during Small Business Saturday in downtown Lynchburg. Leaning toward personal minimalism and conscious consumption, I prioritized quality gifts that supported the local economy. Surprisingly, I was able to complete nearly all of my shopping in about 4 hours. While the wind was a bit biting for strolling between shops, I sacrificed smudgy contact lenses and dove into the experience.

“Ok, let’s be organized. Make it fast, make it snappy and if there’s any impulse buying, make it chocolate.” Lorelai, Gilmore Girls

The Plan

I don’t window shop yet, I like to work from lists. So, I put together a walking path for myself and my husband. We parked on Commerce Street, next to Mrs. Joy’s Absolutely Fabulous Treats. From there, we collected coffee and breakfast at The White Hart. Food in hand, we jogged up to Church Street to start at Live Trendy or Die. At Live Trendy, we were made aware of the Find Frosty Scavenger Hunt.

For Small Business Saturday, several shops hid Frosty Figures in their store. Each Frosty earned a stamp with ten stamps becoming a free t-shirt and a chance to win a bigger raffle. From Live Trendy, we followed the course of Main Street, stopping in all the shops on the Frosty Scavenger Hunt. Then, we branched over to Riverviews Artspace to visit Good Karma Tea Company. During our visits, we tasted treats, enjoyed the decorations, collected a few reusable tote bags and somehow got a free pair of wooden earrings. This concluded our downtown shopping and scavenger hunt.

Confession: I derailed at Target

Keeping it real, we left downtown and went to Givens Bookstore. From there, we ran to Target. At Target we bought some groceries, wrapping paper and glittery holiday cards because… Target. Then, I also picked up some crinkly packing paper for all my gift boxes at Michael’s. Finally, I grabbed a cute Marvel superhero ornament at Five Below to add to the set I started for my brother-in-law last year.

Although my attempt at purchasing wholly from small businesses was a little flawed, my spending ratio totaled 85% small business. For someone who grew up next to a New Jersey outlet mall, and only recently converted to supporting local businesses and artists, I am counting it a success.

The Haul

If you’re looking to shop local consider supporting the businesses below. All of the shopkeepers are both helpful and locally minded. In fact, they will often connect you with a great gift at another store or a local source.

For several of my gifts, I opted to put together a mix of local items around  a theme. For example, my sister has recently struggled with perfumes and chemicals (something I went through a few years ago). So, I selected several local body and home products that don’t irritate skin. For some of the couples, I picked consumable kitchen goods that would make special treats like olive oil and spice rubs. By bringing several items together in one gift, I was able to spread out my shopping between several stores while still moving quickly through the gift list. Typically, I struggle with indecision but, I knew I could divide up the goods later at home.

Adult Woman (50s):

Adult Man (50s):

Adult Woman (20s):

Adult Woman (20s):

Adult Man (20s):

Couple, Adult Man and Woman (30s)

Couple, Adult Man and Woman (50s)

  • Novelty Peanuts (Favored Flavors)
  • 10-Minute Bananagrams Book (Givens Books)
  • Latte Bar and Chocolate Bars (Altus Chocolate)

Grandparents, Adult Man and Woman (70+)

Nephew, Child (3 yr)

  • Wooden Stencil Kit (Baby B)

Nephew, Child (1 yr)

  • Stacking Cups (Givens Books)

Family, with young Children:

  • 10ft Jumbo Parachute (Givens Books)

Some of these finds, like the affordable $14 stencil kit, wrecked my local shopping assumptions about price. Also, the experience was less time consuming than expected, as I was able to move quickly through the organized and efficient shops.

To summarize, shopping local is not only a great way to support the community but also a path to thoughtful, unique gifts. All of these items are either Made in the USA, created by local artists and artisans, or sold by small businesses. While you may consider opting for the convenience of big-box stores, I would encourage you to take some time to explore the shops in our community. Weigh in in the comments about your favorite local shops and stay tuned for an upcoming post my personal wishlist.

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