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Shop Locally, Respond Globally:

I’m not a big retail shopping guy, or shopping guy at all. The consumer goods I buy with any regularity include used CD’s, used DVD’s, and old musical toys found at yard sales. Shopping malls of the standard variety remind me of how often we reduce our creative drives and desires down to the limiting act of shopping. And I like pragmatic and practical items, when much of mall content is about ephemera and things that are “cute.” Too many cute things will eventually clutter and complicate your life… just ask Tiger Woods. (Enjoy it; that’s the only reference I’ll ever make to that story.)

Of course I want Santa Monica’s Main Street to thrive. We live two blocks away from it, we do our banking there, and we have always tried to do Christmas shopping there. For one thing, it creates a pleasant holiday interlude to stroll Main Street with that special someone (who brought their credit cards) and move from shop to shop considering the wares. We can’t go back in time but we can shop for holiday gifts without wishing we were instead in a Turkish prison, which is a feeling that malls at the holidays often engender.

You might think I’m late with my annual appeal to shop locally in Santa Monica, but a lot of you will still be out on the streets shopping for holiday gifts when this column hits those streets. (CUT TO: CLOSE-UP… bundle of newspapers dropped on a rain-slicked sidewalk. Headline: “Keep Buying Stuff, There’s Still a Week!”) Remember that the holidays are a time for the warmth of family and Nat King Cole’s caramel smooth crooning. You are hereby ordered to never come unglued, depressed, or outraged at another driver or check-out clerk. As it says in the Bible, “Let thy shopping reflect the joy of the season.” I’m referencing the Macy’s Bible, which comes loaded with money-saving coupons.

In addition to less parking hassle when you shop locally (walk or take the bus or even ride your bike) you can feel a little better helping individual shops with individual personalities survive in the current economy. Sure, everybody could use your holiday dollars. But when a small one-of-a-kind retail business closes anywhere, the window on non-standard goods gets smaller. Then that address is taken over by a GAP store and we’re one step closer to my biggest nightmare: Denim underwear.

Same with those pauses one takes in shopping. Get your coffee from the singular neighborhood place if you can. The fight against the standardization of personality begins with your latte. Give a buck to the kid over in the corner playing carols on his zither. It’s not his fault that, many Christmases ago, he asked for a Fender Telecaster and got a zither.

Then there’s the gifts themselves. I know it’s difficult to resist putting something tangible into a pretty package and handing it to someone you love, or want to love, or wish loved you. A shrink might have plenty to say about it, but I’ll just offer this: A certificate of giving from an organization like Heifer International, Oxfam, United Farm Workers, CARE, Doctors Without Borders, UNICEF, Meals on Wheels, Step Up on Second, Upward Bound House… I’ll stop now and apologize to all the other great organizations… means that you’ve given a gift not only to someone close but to someone else you may never meet. This economy isn’t any easier on non-profit organizations and they look to this time of the year for major portions of their budgets. You write the check, they do the work… and then you tell a friend “Merry Christmas… it was going to be a golf sweater, but we went with food and shelter for people in need instead.”

When you do shop, please keep as much business as you can in our city. Santa Monica still maintains a pleasant level of charm, and a big part of that comes from merchants who offer a more intriguing shopping experience than big box stores. And maybe this is the moment where I squeeze in the “green” dimensions: Look for items made with renewable resources that don’t require electricity or batteries or the use of rare chemicals or diamonds that people somewhere are killing each other over. Will giving a gift of a simple wool hat somehow save a dolphin? I don’t know… but it’s my guess that more iPOD’s won’t save them, either.

Ultimately, somebody does want that compact electronic thing or the game that simulates the human carnage produced by cars driving on sidewalks or an electric razor that adjusts to the intimate contours of your face. These are the various fetishes by which we determine that we’re living in the 21st century and not still heating our cabins on the prairie with dried sod. But we can also experience a very American kind of freedom by being consumers with our own individual and conscientious blueprints. Yeah, we got to get this economy going and it would be great in that one narrow view if the malls were jammed this season. But you could also knit somebody a scarf and not get chewed-out in a late night phone call from Tim Geitner. Gosh, I hope he likes the duct tape wallet I made for him.

Contact Steve Stajich


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