Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Ultimate Freedom: Saying No

I did something stupid today, but then I immediately undid it.

One of the best things about my year of shopping only in New Westminster was how much stuff I got to ignore. Flyer from a store not in New West? I'd toss it without a second look. (And by "toss," I mean recycle, of course.) Email about some daily deal not in New Westminster? I'd hit delete, without a second thought. Or better yet, I'd unsubscribe and be done with it forever.

Since my year officially ended Oct. 1, I've been sticking mainly to New Westminster for shopping. I've yet to hit Metrotown or any other mall, which is also a relief. You know how some people love shopping so much they are energized by it? That's not me. I generally come home from a trip to the mall feeling like I've had the life sucked out of me.

Still, some of what I was able to blissfully ignore for a year has started to creep back into my life. I'm starting to look at flyers from places like RONA, even when there's nothing I need to buy from there.

Today, I received my Frugal Bits e-newsletter. It's a local website, that has all kinds of consumer and shopping information, including a feature that compares common supermarket items like pickles and ketchup. It also offers daily deals and since it focuses so heavily on buying, I do question its name. Because you know what's really frugal? Not shopping. Not subscribing to yet another email newsletter that brings mountains of merchandise to your inbox every single day.

Anyway, today's edition described a website called Gilt, which I'd never heard of, but apparently it's amazing! Offering great, time-limited, members only deals! Now shipping to Canada! And free shipping for the next week! Today's special was Hunter boots, which I've always wanted. So, before I knew it, I had signed up for the damn thing.

I clicked around a bit on the site, where, in addition to Hunter boots, one can also buy gaudy jewellery for the low, low price of something like $2,758.29. This was when I realized that I'd fallen for it, the delusion that seems to drive so much spending these days.

That delusion is the idea that being able to buy a bunch of stuff from all over the place is some kind of freedom. That in order to be truly fulfilled I must be able to order low price Hunter boots from a website and have them delivered to my very own country. That my quality of life will suffer if I can't drive across multiple municipalities to get a good deal on a chair or a winter jacket or whatever.

It's not that I have anything against bargains or shopping in general. It's that limiting where I shopped did not feel limiting at all. It felt like freedom. Letting all the noiseall the flyers, the ads, the online salescreep back in feels stifling. That does affect my quality of life and not in a positive way.

So after a brief dip back into delusion, I said no, not today. I unsubscribed to Gilt as quickly as I had subscribed and it felt good. I'm not going to buy the Hunter boots. I can't afford them anyway, bargain or no. Besides I already have a perfectly good pair of cute rubber boots (blue with red cherries).

Sometimes, saying no is the most liberating thing of all.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

What New West Needs

My year of shopping only in New Westminster is officially over, so I have to write this post quickly. I have to get to IKEA, Costco and Metrotown as soon as possible. Kidding! I'm sure I'll stray out of New Westminster eventually, but for the moment, I feel no particular compulsion to do so.

I was reading in the Sun today about two creative guys in Vancouver who are polling the community to see what kind of store they should open in a 600-square-foot commercial space one of them owns on Union Street.

The choices are restaurant, service, retail or other. When you vote, you write in what specific type of business you'd like.

One of the things I like about the project is how the project's partners, Michael Leung and Josh Michnik, have linked business to community building. The partners want to start a business they think is viable, but it's inspiring that they also want to start a business the local neighbourhood community needs and will, one hopes, support.

They seem sincere about the project; it goes beyond intensive market research or a gimmicky idea to get publicity. They say they want to hire local residents and support community gardens, park restorations or homeless shelters with a portion of the venture's proceeds.

The idea of community building and retail business might not seem a natural one, but if there's one thing I've learned over the past year, it's that where we choose to spend our money is a powerful decision. It's not, I'm now convinced, just about the buying and selling of goods. Where we spend our money affects the communities, for better or for worse, where we live.

Check out the project's site at:

One of the things I did over the last year was compile a list of stores and services I'd like to see in New Westminster. I think New West needs these kinds of stores/businesses:

  • Outdoors/camping goods
  • Children's indoor play area
  • Cupcakes
  • Kitchen supplies
  • Greater variety of clothing and shoe stores
  • Sporting goods
  • Maternity
  • Department store
  • Bagels (there are already stores in New West that could sell good bagels, but no one seems to)
  • Hardware (yes, there's Griff's in Queensborough and Lowe's is about to open, but I'd like to see a Home Hardware-style store on the mainland)
  • Pop-up Halloween store
  • Tacos, need more tacos!
I had gelato place and garden store on the list too, but there is now a gelato place on Sixth St., with another set to open at River Market and a garden store just opened at River Market.

If there was a This Space type project in New West, what business or service would you suggest? What is New West missing that it needs and that you would actually shop at? What businesses and services would help build community in New West?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

What I've Learned: I Like Shopping More Than Blogging

My year of shopping only in New Westminster is winding down, so I've started reflecting on what I've learned and discovered over the year. Instead of writing one big long post at the end of the month, I've decided to do a few (so far just two!) posts throughout the month.

I like shopping more than blogging. Regular readers of this blog (fingers crossed I haven't lost everyone completely) will have noticed my blog entries have tailed off quite a bit. There's all kinds of reasons for that; mostly, life is busy.

As I've told various people, I didn't find it hard to stick to shopping only in New Westminster. It's true there has been some, ahem, slippage, in my faithfulness to New West as my year winds down. I'll confess: I bought a dress in Dawson Creek while I was on vacation in August. I'm actually leaving on a trip in a few hours, a repositioning cruise to San Francisco. I think the chances of me leaving San Francisco without making a purchase or two are low. Very low.

Still, I feel I've been relatively successful in my local shopping mission. I feel less successful at blogging about it.  Now that my year is almost up, people have been asking me what's next? Despite my inconsistency with the blog, I don't think I want to abandon it entirely. There are so many exciting things going on right now in New West. The River Market is filling up with new tenants. The first building in the Brewery District in Sapperton is now almost complete. Ground has been broken on the new civic centre downtown.

I have some ideas about what to do with the blog, including doing mini-features on local businesses that gauge "How Local are They?" But I'm curious to know what readers of the blog think. Is it worth it to keep the blog in one form or another? What would you like to see?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

What I've Learned: New West is not Second Best

My year of shopping only in New Westminster is winding down, so I've started reflecting on what I've learned and discovered over the year. Instead of writing one big long post at the end of the month, I've decided to do a few posts throughout the month.

First of all, I've learned that New West is not second best.

When I first moved to Vancouver in 1999, my attitude was decidedly anti-suburban. Whether or not New West is actually suburban is another question. At the time, I thought it was.

"If we're going to move to the city, we're going to live in the city," I told my husband. I remember openly sneering at someone who told me they had just moved to Burnaby. Burnaby! The horror!

(This seems a fairly cocky and snotty attitude for someone who moved to Vancouver from Kamloops.)

But after a year of living just off the Drive, I got a job in New Westminster and we wanted a bigger place to live. We found a great apartment with the Holy Grail for renters: in-suite laundry.

While we liked lots of things about New West, including its small town feel, I think I held on to remnants of my originally snotty attitude even years after moving here, especially with regards to shopping. I thought, sometimes subconsciously, sometimes consciously, that if a store or restaurant was in New West, it was bound to be not as good as a store or restaurant elsewhere, particularly in Vancouver.

After about a year of working in New West, I started working in Vancouver again. That only solidified my attitude. New West was where I slept, but the exciting stuff—shopping, eating out, entertainment—was elsewhere.

Over this past year, my attitude has been transformed dramatically.

I can say with confidence that I've found many stores, restaurants and services in New Westminster that stack up against the best anywhere.

Here's just a few of the experiences that have changed my mind.

Over the past year, I:

All in New Westminster.

I'm still not sure what I'm going to do when my year of shopping locally is over. It's doubtful that I'll stick solely to New West for all my shopping. But I do know this: I will look in New West first and for many items and services I won't even think of going anywhere else. There's no need to leave home when I can find the best so close by.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

What to Do When Local Stinks

When I decided to shop only in New Westminster for a year, I made an exception for my pits. Yep, my armpits. I can't use most antiperspirants and deodorants, even the all-natural kinds. They make my armpits all red, bumpy and itchy. So I don't smell, but I walk around all day scratching myself, which is probably just as unattractive as stinking. Some time ago I found a cream deodorant at Kiehl's. It's expensive, but it doesn't make me itch. I wasn't even sure how well it worked because it doesn't have a strong smell; I was just happy I wasn't itchy anymore.

But a couple of months ago I decided to try something I could buy in New West. I was hoping to save time (no more trips to Kiehl's in Vancouver) and money. I bought a made-in-Canada deodorant from Green Beaver, which was available at Donald's Market. That's when I figured out just how well the Kiehl's stuff works: when I saw (or rather, I've gotta say it, smelled) how poorly the Green Beaver stuff did.

The experience got me thinking about the risk involved with trying new products and services. It's a lot easier to stick with the tried-and-true than to try something new. For the sake of everyone I know, I have gone back to my Kiehl's. But I won't stop trying new stuff. I won't even abandon trying Green Beaver products.

While I've found more hits than misses in my local shopping, here's a few things I keep in mind to get the best shopping experience:

1. Ask for recommendations
Do some research. Ask your friends. Do an internet search. Check out sites like Yelp. For New Westminster specifically, go to Twitter and ask a question with the #newwest hashtag at the end. "Hey, does anyone in #newwest know where I can get a good haircut for curly hair?" is a question I asked and got several good recommendations. I picked one and found a stylist who really knows how to cut curly hair. (Sarah at In Style Hair Studio.)

2. Don't be harder on local products and businesses than on big brands/stores
I tried a vegan cupcake recently at the New West farmer's market and was super disappointed. It was gloppy and moist, not cake-like at all. The thought that popped into my mind was, "I'm never eating a vegan cupcake ever again, if this is what they taste like." My son however liked it and encouraged me to buy another one. So I did. The second cupcake was delicious: light and fluffy with yummy icing.

That taught me to give a new business or product a fair shot before I make up my mind. I think I used to judge small businesses more quickly and more harshly than big businesses, for reasons I'm not quite sure of.  After all, I do a lot of grocery shopping at Safeway and I don't always love everything I buy there, but that hasn't stopped me from shopping there. I keep that example in mind while shopping at smaller businesses. If I don't like one product a local merchant offers, I'm now willing to try another.  

3. Talk to the owner
Small business owners don't have several layers of management to go through to make a change. They can and do make decisions all the time at the direct request of customers. That's what happened when vegan blogger Melissa Balfour talked to the owners of Crepe Des Amis. She was hoping for the business owners to start making vegan crepe batter. As she describes on her blog, The Hungry Taurus, they went beyond that and created a whole vegan menu.

Imagine if you suggested to the person taking your order at McDonald's that they start serving a vegan "burger." What would happen? Absolutely nothing.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Mmm, pie and other delights of Sapperton Day

Sapperton Day Festival, June 12, 2011
While I'm regularly on East Columbia St., going to cardio karate at Hawkes Martial Arts, I have never attended the Sapperton Day Festival before. It was a beautiful day and a great opportunity for East Columbia St. businesses to showcase themselves to large crowds. I didn't "win" anything on the Royal Columbian Hospital Foundation silent auction, but since I tend to get a little carried away with bidding, that's probably a good thing. This event is definitely going on my "must attend" list.

Bought soap from a street vendor. If I see soap, I buy soap.

Bought pie at Farm Cottage Bakery. Meant to take picture of the whole pie,
but got fork out before camera.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Flowers are Pretty!

Not much to say today, I just wanted to share a pic of this lovely bouquet from Queen's Park Florist that I got in the silent auction at the Royal City Farmers Market fundraiser on May 26. I took this pic right after I got the bouquet and while some of the blooms have now faded, it still looks pretty enough to keep on my table.

Don't forget: The 2011 summer farmers' market starts this Thursday, June 9, at 3 p.m. in Tipperary Park.