Saturday, October 31, 2009

Break the Chain - The Last Day

We participated in the Great American Halloween tradition of Trick-or-Treating, which is always said as all one word and turned into a verb. It is an action, after all, walking around the neighborhood, knocking on doors and saying "Trick or Treat" with an open hand waiting for candy.

Like the candy-filled Easter basket, though, it's such a pervasive tradition, and so much a part of what our culture does, that it's really hard, even for someone as on the fringe as we are, to let it go - or to convince my girls to discard in favor of developing new traditions - something not quite so ... commercialized and sugar-laden.

But I'm working on it ....

As we were walking over to the trick-or-treating street in the subdivision across the road from where we live, I joked that we should have gone to the mall (when the girls were younger, we used to go to the mall, but not since 2001 - I was joking about it, because it was supposed to rain :).

Little Fire Faery said, "We can't go to the mall. It's a chain store!"

Success comes in small increments.

Today is the last day of the challenge. I was going to wait until tomorrow to post my wrap-up for the challenge, but it's going to be a busy, busy day tomorrow ... what with all the shopping I have to do ...

Seriously, though. I did learn a few things over the month of not shopping at chain stores.

I started the month confident that I had a very good handle on the types of things I might need over the month, and I was pretty sure of where I'd get them.

I discovered that was not exactly true. I didn't anticipate needing to get office supplies. There is no place, except a chain store, to get those sorts of things, and even if I had ordered the very specialized paper and labels online, it would have been from a chain supplier, and I didn't have time to wait from them to get to me.

The other thing I didn't figure on needing to buy is diapers. I don't have any diaper-wearing children of my own (my youngest is six), and when I did, they were in cloth diapers. But I babysit my granddaughter several days per week, and I will usually buy diapers and clothes and shoes to use when she's at my house. It helps my daughter, and it really is better for me to just have those things, because sometimes in the rush to get out of the door and over to Grandma's house so that Mom and Dad can get to work on time, things get forgotten. It just happens.

This week, I ran out of diapers, and I had to stop at Hannaford.

I also learned that there are just some things that local stores don't carry. Like diapers. I could not think of any place in my area that was not a chain or supplied by a chain (IGA) that would carry diapers.

The other issue is that very little manufacturing is done in the United States anymore, which means that most of the things we're going to buy anyway are shipped across the world.

We have a salvage store in the area, and I went there last week looking for yarn. It's a Maine-only chain, but none of the stuff is they sell is "local." It's all reject stuff - probably from Wal-Mart :). Unfortunately, they didn't have the yarn I was looking for, and worse, the store is in the same plaza as Joanne's Fabric (where they do have the yarn I needed), and I didn't succumb to temptation, but I did look longingly at the windows as we walked by.

The worst part about the challenge, though, was that I seemed to spend a lot more time driving around to the different stores. I live in a small town, surrounded by small towns, but only one of the towns where I spend a lot of time has a walkable downtown area, and the shopping centers they have are occupied mostly by chain stores.

We didn't buy a lot of stuff this month, though. Mostly it was food, and unfortunately, because we were shopping for just our regular things (like the same sugar we can get at Hannaford for 50 cents less per pound than we paid), we probably spent a little more money than we would have in an ordinary month.

The flip-side of that is that because we weren't going to the grocery store, we weren't doing much impulse grocery shopping, and so we saved money. Maybe in the end, we actually broke even.

The really awesome thing I learned was that my food stores are phenomenal! We ran out of coffee, tea, sugar! and dog food. Other than that, we only purchased fresh items, like produce and diary. Everything else we still have plenty of.

Ultimately, the lesson I learned is that when it comes to food, we could source everything we need from local vendors (not 100% local food, though, as some products we buy regularly, like sugar and flour, are not Maine-based products usually), and much of it from local producers.

When it comes to other goods, like office supplies, we're less successful. The pervasiveness of chain stores and shopping centers filled with them have all but stamped out most general store-type businesses.

Starting tomorrow, the challenge is over, and we will go back to Hannaford. But, maybe, Deus Ex Machina will continue to drive the extra couple of miles to visit the tattoo girl at the local coffee house in the morning, instead of visiting Mike at Tim Horton's.

I know that I will always prefer my local booksellers, who may not have what I want in stock, but who will always, willingly and ably, order any book title I request.

The locally-owned feedstore will always trump Tractor Supply for my business, because everyone who works there knows my face (if not my name), and I don't ever expect to get that at Tractor Supply (plus, the products at the local place are a better quality, in my opinion).

Today was the last day of the Farmer's Market for the season, but one of the vendors will be opening their farm store over the winter, twice in December and twice in January, and I will make a point to be free on those Saturdays so that I can stock up. In the spring, I'll be back at the Farmer's Market on opening day, and I will buy something from everyone who is there, and inquire about their winter ... and many of them will probably remember me - enough to ask how my winter went, as well.

Until they close for the season, the farm store (different from the one mentioned above) will be a regular stop, because they do know my name, and that's just a nice feeling.

We visited a local consignment shop today, where the clothes are a bit more expensive than Goodwill, but a much superior quality. I found everything I was looking for there, and saw a bunch of stuff I didn't know we might need, until I saw it. I'm thinking if I buy any gifts for the holidays, that's where I'm going first.

I am glad I challenged myself and my family, thus, this month. It was actually kind of fun, and as evidenced by my daughter's comments, I think they may have actually gotten something out of it. In the end, it was me who was waffling and ready to break the challenge, but they (especially Deus Ex Machina, who was just a super trooper through the whole month!) pulled me back and helped me think of alternatives.

Last night, Deus Ex Machina and I went to the World Premier of the stage adaptation of An American Werewolf in London. It was an incredible show, and as a long-time fan of the movie (that came out in theatres when I was a teenager, and I saw it in the theatres - very cool on the big screen!), I have to say that they did an amazingly AWESOME job! I can't praise the show enough.

With the exception of the community theatre that is associated with my girls' dance school, we've never really participated in local stage productions. At the beginning of the show, the director came out on stage and gave a little intro/instructional speech. In closing he said, "Support community theatre. Let's help each other through these tough times."

And I agree. Support local ... support all local. Let's help each other through these tough times.

And that's what I learned from this project.

How about you?

If you have been participating, please leave a comment and I will do the drawing for the winner of one of my (very precious and sacred) books :).


  1. Hee hee, now you know why I sat this one out--diapers. I knew straight up there was NO WAY I'd be able to do this w/out diapers. Maybe if I was a SAHM or even had a washer and dryer on premises I'd do cloth...but disposables are my vice.

    Sounds like you did pretty damn good over all--it was all those paper products (in various forms!) that cramped it a bit!

  2. We did pretty well this week. We were home most of the week. But when we went out we hit our local feed/ natural foods store for local beef, local eggs. We drove down to Portland and back yesterday morning and visited with old friends. We managed to have only road food that was from local restaurants.

    I had enough cat food and kitty litter for the month. Those are supplies that local stores don't carry that would have been difficult to manage without a chain store around.

    Being out in the country where , with the exception of a couple of grocery stores and hardware/feed stores, most other supplies are available 45 minutes away and require a special trip. So this took more thought to find some things we needed. Great Challenge!

    Oh and there is a project going on in Skowhegan Maine to provide a grain mill for central Maine grain farms. I recently heard of studies , I think on MPBN, to come up with a wheat seed that can grow in our short growing season. Central Maine used to be the bread basket of the northeast and I think it will just be a matter of before we can source local flour.

  3. I got dragged along to Home Despot on one of DH's "project" shopping trips. I ended up buying extra metal stakes for the garden. So...not so good this week, though there were several other things I could've picked up if I'd come across them. I hate going to HD, and always try to get out of going along when my husband goes.

    On the other hand I did go to a locally owned restaurant supply store for some cheese cloth, kitchen twine (my kitchen spool somehow always ends up out in the shed for outdoor use), and baking parchment this week. I think that was all the shopping we did this week.

    Like you I feel ambivalent about buying imported, let alone non-local, stuff from local businesses. Although I feel I let myself down with the Home Despot purchases, I wonder how much benefit would really accrue from buying those things at a locally owned store instead. The answer is probably "a little." And I suppose anything is better than nothing when it comes to keeping dollars in my own community.

    Thanks for running this challenge, Wendy.

  4. I did not participate-- although I always avoid Wal*mart like the plague-- but have no other options for groceries than chain stores. 100 miles north west doesn't seem far, until you realize how much earlier our farmer's markets end. Anyhow, I heard "Lost in the Supermarket" on Sunday and thought it would make a good theme song should you do this challenge again. "I can no longer shop happily..."

  5. For local yarn did you try Halcyon Yarn?

    I found this challenge too late to try, but I'll be keeping it in mind as I shop.