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.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Chair Shopping in New Westminster (or Oops! I Bought a Desk)

Today was big day in local shopping for me. I went out looking for a desk chair and ended up buying a desk. I got it at Modern Home Furnishings on 12th St.

It's going to look something like this, but in a dark stain and with different handles:

Despite doing this blog and this local shopping experiment, I have a conflicted relationship with buying stuff, particularly big stuff. (Yeah, yeah, husband, I know you don't believe me.) But it's true.

When I was a kid, my aunt and cousin came to visit us one summer and they took a trip to the local mall. When they got back to our house, my aunt said it was so cold in the mall, she had to buy my cousin a towel to wrap around herself to keep warm. I was astonished and even shocked by this because this is something my parents never would have done. They didn't actually use the phrase, "Suck it up," but that was their attitude. In the same situation, they likely would have told me to go outside to get warm. Spending money and buying something was never the answer to a problem.

This upbringing has left me with the mindset that if anything costs more than, let's say, $20, it's too expensive. Of course, I do regularly buy things that cost more than $20, (the desk, for the record, cost more than $20) but there's always a voice in the back of my head telling me I'm spending too much. Thank goodness for this blog, which is helping to snuff out that little voice. Because of this blog, I would feel bad if I didn't buy stuff.

And there are all kinds of reasons to feel good about this purchase.
  1. Yay, new desk!  I've written before about my desk chair, the one that I bought second-hand for $25 over 10 years ago. I didn't mention that my current "desk" is a plastic folding table. I used to use a small table my grandfather made as a desk, but it's now our hall table.
  2. B.C.-based and made in B.C.  Modern Home Furnishing is a local chain. Most of their products, including my desk, are made at their factory in Surrey.
  3. Made of B.C. wood  My desk is going to be made of alder wood and, from what I understand, alder wood grown here in B.C.
I'd say this desk is so far my biggest purchase in my year of shopping locally. I'm glad it's such a thoroughly local one.

Monday, April 18, 2011

What's in a name? New Westminster's retail mix

While driving home a few days ago I saw some workers pounding in a few new signs at the corner of the outlet mall in Queensborough. "Coming soon! The Gap!! and Banana Republic!!!"
My first reaction was to get excited because, like all North Americans, I've been trained to salivate at the sight of shiny brand names. My second was to think, "Hmm, maybe if I start dieting now, I can actually fit into some Gap and Banana Republic clothes by the time the stores open." (Hey, I'm sharing my thoughts here. Some of them are stupid.)

It got me thinking about the ideal retail mix for New Westminster. North Americans are trained to salivate at the sight of brand names. But when New Westminster gets big chain stores, they are choosing to locate mainly in the island of outlet stores anchored by Wal-mart in Queensborough. There's nothing really cool, nothing really local or independent. New West's other shopping areas are mostly absent of many big name chains.

The question is, would a few "big" names in other parts of New West help out the existing locally owned, independent stores? There's some evidence this works, at least for coffee. It's called the Starbucks Effect. Essentially, Starbucks revived interest in coffee and gave the public a taste for expensive, premium coffee, which was good not just for Starbucks, but for anyone selling coffee.

A store called Red Brick just opened on 6th St. at Carnarvon. It features a funky mix of modern home furnishings and eclectic accessories, such as salad servers with twig handles and oversized vintage (or vintage-look) clocks. I have to confess though, when I walked in to check out the store, I felt a pang of fear. It's exactly the kind of store New West needs; it's exactly the kind of store that has trouble staying alive in New West. Would it be more successful if there was a chain store nearby? An Urban Barn perhaps?

But I wouldn't want New West to ever have a retail landscape like Robson Street's, despite its popularity. I'm old enough to remember all the character Robson St. used to have when it was still called Robsonstrasse and young enough to remember scoring drinks while underage in several places along it. Robson Street's location and all the foot traffic that location brings meant rents skyrocketed, until only the biggest companies with the deepest pockets could afford stores on Robson. It now has all the character of a suburban mall. A glossy, upscale mall, but a mall nonetheless.

New Westminster has, in Columbia Street, the kind of downtown main street urban planners go crazy for. We have what other cities are willing to pay money to try to recreate. Just take a look at this story about Surrey and Mayor Diane Watts talking about the importance of town centres.

New Westminster is lucky, we don't have to build Fakey Town like they did at Park Royal Mall. I hope for a funky future for New West's shopping areas, less like Robson St. and more like Commercial Drive, which last time I checked has very few big chain stores, (unless you consider Ten Thousand Villages a big chain). 

Screw the brand names. Let New Westminster and its retailers make a name for themselves.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Special Spend Report: Shop Small, Save Big

During the month of February I didn't shop at any major chain grocery stores. I did all my shopping at smaller grocery stores. I assumed prices would be crazy expensive and that my monthly grocery bill would skyrocket. I was wrong.
So, where did I buy my groceries?

I shopped at:
Probably the best deal I found was black forest ham for just .99 cents/100 grams at the Holland Shopping Centre, which has a deli. (That seems to be the regular price for it.) Safeway's was $1.79/100 g.
I did most of my grocery shopping at Donald's Market. I found that on produce and regular priced items, Donald's was very competitive with Safeway, which is where I usually do my big grocery shops.

For example: 
  • Philadelphia soft cream cheese: $4.49 at both Safeway and Donald's.
  • Bananas were .79 cents/lb. at both Safeway and Donald's.
Some items were cheaper at Donald's, like Eggo Waffles, which are $2.99 at Donald's, but $3.29 at Safeway.

It is hard though to beat the big stores' sale prices: Safeway sells Eggo waffles on sale for $2. I bought a big box of Froot Loops at Donald's for $6.49; the same box at Safeway is regular priced at $7.11, but on sale, it's just $4.99.

It was tough to find a deal on milk. I'm used to paying about $4.50 for 4 litres. It was a lot more expensive at Uptown Market—$5.99 for 4 litres—and a bit more expensive at Donald's—$4.99 for 4 litres. And the wonderful glass bottles of Avalon Dairy milk are way more expensive, I think about $2.99 for 2 litres.

But sometimes it's worth it to pay for the quality. That's what I found at Queen's Park Butcher, where I got a pound of ground beef that cost about $1 more per pound than at Safeway. But there was such a noticeable difference in quality, I know I'll go back. When I cooked up the ground beef and went to drain off the grease, there was nothing to drain off. Not that it was entirely fat-free, but there was not enough to drain.

Was there any cheating? You bet. My husband made a couple of morning runs to the nearby Price Smart for milk. I felt a wee bit bad about this, but while Price Smart is part of a big chain, it's a B.C. chain. Plus the store near our house is always being threatened with closure so I always feel good when I shop there because if it closes pretty much the only place to buy milk near our house will be Wal-mart.

Other than avoiding big chains, I did make one other big switch to my shopping habits in February: I meal planned. Every Sunday, I figured out what we already had in the fridge, freezer, and pantry and I planned my meals around that. Instead of buying things I thought we might need, I was buying only the specific items I knew we would.

According to one blogger, after she started meal planning, her grocery bill was cut in half. Mine didn't go that low, but I did spend less, and I did use up way more of what I had in my pantry, fridge and freezer.

In total, I spent about $380 on groceries in the month of February. In January, I spent just over $450.

I have to admit that after February I pretty much reverted back to my old grocery shopping habits and I've abandoned meal planning. That's something I want to start doing again.

I'm also hoping to make my way back to the smaller stores on a more regular basis especially now that I know I can get:
  • reasonably priced ground turkey at Uptown Market;
  • great meat at Queen's Park Butcher; and
  • a made-in-Vancouver laundry detergent at Donald's Market that is formulated for this area's soft water and is priced comparably to big name detergent brands.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Local shopping missionary or losing my religion?

I've had a couple of reminders that I haven't exactly been devoted to updating this blog recently.

The first kick in the pants came from a recent column in the New West News Leader about the importance of shopping locally.

"Ideally, we’d all be doing more of what Sheila Keenan’s doing this year," wrote editor Chris Bryan. "She’s a missionary type, going at it with a zeal few could sustain for the long term."

So full of zeal that I hadn't posted on this blog, which he included a link to, for over a month. D'oh!

What really got me though was an e-mail today from a reader in Texas, asking if I was still shopping locally since she had noticed the blog hadn't been updated lately. I didn't know I had a reader in Texas, let alone one I was disappointing with the infrequency of my posts.

The truth is I've been feeling kinda blah about this whole local shopping endeavour. In February, I did a month of grocery shopping only at small grocery stores and no big chains. That got me fired up about local shopping, though not, you'll notice, fired up enough to actually blog about it yet. (The short story: it's not as expensive as one might think. For produce and regular-priced items, a store like Donald's is fairly competitive with the big stores.)

I didn't have any special focus to my local shopping in March and that's when the doldrums really hit. I bought my office chair used for $25 over 10 years ago. It now makes my butt sore every time I sit in it. I don't just write for fun, I do it for a living, so my butt's in the chair quite a bit. I really want a new one and I want a good one. I know I could drive about five minutes away from my house to the Staples in nearby Burnaby and pick one up pretty quickly. I'm not sure where I'm going to find one in New West and the thought of making a big hunt of it is just kind of tiresome. (Wal-mart has them, but they're $90 and I'd really rather not buy one there.)

So much for my missionary zeal. Here I am ready to abandon the whole thing due to one slightly sore butt.

Remember how saintly and devout everyone thought Mother Teresa was? Then after she died and some of her letters were published, it turned out she had struggled mightily with her faith for decades, to the point of doubting the existence of heaven and even of God at times. Not that my boredom with shopping in New West compares in scale with a saint's crisis of faith, but I have been wondering if doing this is worth it. If it really makes any difference at all.

Then, it turns out I have a reader in Texas who cares whether or not I'm still shopping locally.

And a friend tells me she tried a restaurant because I wrote about it.

And I see this neat video about what the development around the New Westminster Skytrain Station is going to look like:

Or I read about all the super-cool stuff coming to the River Market that I can't wait to see.

And then I think, sore butt or not, it is worth it to keep the local shopping faith.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Small Shift No Chicken Scratch for B.C.'s Economy

This post is an excuse to share this clip from the show Portlandia. (A great show with lots of evidence that Vancouver is quite a bit like Portland.) Since I feel the need to have a point when I write, I came up with one that fits in pretty well with the clip.

Watch it first, then I'll make my point:

As you can see, this is taking the whole idea of going local to ridiculous (and hilarious) extremes.

There's a new "shop local" campaign that recommends a far different course. Instead of going to extremes, it recommends making a small change, a small change that could make a big difference to B.C.'s economy.  

The Ten Percent Shift is a campaign aimed at encouraging B.C. residents to shift just 10 percent of their household spending to locally produced goods and services and locally owned businesses.

Think 10 percent wouldn't accomplish much? Think again.

The B.C. campaign ties in with many other "Shift 10" campaigns in the United States. A study recently completed in Michigan found that if the 600,000 residents in the area studied shifted 10 per cent of their spending the results would be dramatic.

In just one year the shift would:
  • Create 1,600 jobs.

  • Create $137 Million in new economic activity for the area.

  • Create over $53 Million in new wages.

  • The point is, you don't have to know your chicken's name to make a big difference to B.C.'s economy.

    Thursday, February 17, 2011

    Spend report-a-palooza: Spend Reports #16 to #21

    I've gotten incredibly far behind on my posting, specifically my spend reports. I got derailed after Christmas. Going through two months of receipts is not fun, but I've done it. December and January were the months of both shopping at Wal-mart and at a whole bunch of fast food joints. I must have never said no to my son when he wanted to go to Tim Horton's or McDonald's. I have to work on my resistance to letting him get his way. Him saying, "Wow, you're letting me get away with so much stuff," one day really drove that point home. And let's face it, I don't think I ever said no to myself either when I felt like eating out.

    I've decided to do one condensed spend report for Dec./Jan. and then catch up on February later.

    In February, I'm not shopping at any big chain grocery stores, so I will put together a post on how that's going. Sneak peek: I have paid $5.99 (!!!) for 4 litres of milk and .99 cents/100 g for Black Forest ham (also !!!, but in a good way).

    My last spend report was from way back in December, so this one covers from Dec. 17 to Jan. 27.

    From Dec. 17 to Jan. 27, I spent approximately $3,000 in New Westminster. (Wow, that's a big number. Bear in mind two things: this includes Christmas shopping and covers six weeks.) I bought:

    • Groceries at Safeway, IGA, Donald's Market, PriceSmart, Save-on, M&M, and Kin's
    • Baking supplies, mostly nuts, at Galloway's. Their nuts are so reasonable compared to grocery stores.
    • Food/drink at Hi Dozo Sushi, Indian Star, Taco Del Mar, Boston Pizza, Starbucks, Opa Souvlaki, Tim Horton's, Schanks Sports Grill, Great Wall Tea, Graze, Dairy Queen, McDonald's, and Queensboro Pizza
    • Christmas presents at: Fraser River Discovery Centre gift shop, Black Bond Books, Home Outfitters, Purdy's, Wal-mart, Pedagogy Toys, Chatters, London Drugs, Moores, and Shoppers Drug Mart
    • Clothes at Laura
    • Winter boots at SoftMoc
    • Toner at BestBuy
    I also did some non-New West spending, including a trip to the Vancouver Aquarium, which is a pre-Christmas tradition for my family. After my husband's Christmas party, we stayed downtown at the Hyatt. We could not resist taking advantage of the grandma in-home babysitting, which is not available to us very often. I also went to a movie and to the Burnaby Village Museum. I've never really settled on what I'm doing about stuff like this, which is not exactly shopping, but it is spending money outside of New West. I do want to make more of an effort over the upcoming months to go to New Westminster events and entertainment.

    I also took a trip up to Dawson Creek for my uncle's funeral and a trip to Kamloops for a fundraiser at my high school. On trips, I'm buying only essentials: food, gas, lodging and not doing any other shopping.

    Thursday, February 3, 2011

    Great idea, but you're doing it wrong! What does "local" mean anyway?

    I get a variety of reactions when I tell people about my shopping in New Westminster experiment and those reactions generally fit in to three broad groups.

    1. "Oh my gawd, that's going to be impossible!"
    This reaction is the one that is most surprising to me. Also surprising is that I've gotten this reaction from some merchants in New Westminster. While I certainly can't deny getting swept up in a consumer frenzy now and again, it's always at the back of the mind that most of the stuff I buy fulfills wants, not needs. I didn't (and still don't) see giving up shopping outside New West as any sort of particular hardship. There's plenty of food here after all and if there does end up being something I can't get here, going without for a year doesn't seem like such a big deal.

    2. "Uh-huh. Huh. Interesting."
    These are the people, who, like me, don't think limiting myself to New West is a hardship.

    3. "Ooh, good idea. But you're doing it wrong."
    People who have this reaction generally have difficulty with how I have defined "local." I've always been clear that I was using "local" in its geographic sense, not in the "independently owned business" sense that some would prefer. It's not that I disagree with organizations like LocoBC, who both praised my experiment and chastised it (albeit gently) recently. Far from it. I think it's fabulous that more and more people and groups are promoting shopping at independent businesses and making more informed consumer decisions.

    It's just not exactly what I'm doing. It's not that I didn't think about shopping only at New West's independent businesses this year. I decided though that I really want to deal with New West as it is, not as I (or others) may wish it to be. (And let's face it, I knew I would have to buy my toilet paper and light bulbs somewhere. Cutting out all big chains would probably have meant my family and I would end up sitting in the dark sometime this year, wiping our butts with newspaper. I'm into this experiment, but I'm not that into it.)

    Sure, I've got a picture in my head of an ideal New Westminster: one full of dozens of unique, diverse, independently owned small businesses that attract not only local residents but people from all around the Lower Mainland. But that's not reality, at least not right now. Not yet.

    I want my experiment to reflect the reality of what shopping in New West for a year looks like for the average consumer. And that means my choices are between some locally owned businesses and some big chains. It's fascinating to me that if I stuck to shopping at stores only within walking distance of my home my choices range from as local as one can get (produce and flowers grown at a tiny farm about two blocks away) and, well, Wal-Mart, where much of the merchandise is imported from China.

    I want my experiment to deal with the reality of New Westminster's retail landscape as it is today. That's not to deny I'm hopeful it will look different tomorrow.

    Sunday, January 23, 2011

    Catching up after Christmas

    I've let things slide on the blog since Christmas. And now it's January 23.
    The New Westminster NewsLeader did a story on shopping locally last week where I discussed my blog and how my experiment is going so far.

    As I said in the story, I'm still sticking to the local shopping and there hasn't been a case yet where there was something I really, really needed to buy that I couldn't find in New Westminster. (Other than food and a sufficient amount of clothing, there's really not much that anybody really, really needs to buy. Most purchases fulfill wants, not needs.)

    Still, I am having moments where I really, really want to go somewhere, anywhere else, and buy something, anything.

    The main conclusion I've reached at this point in my experiment, almost four months in, is that limiting my shopping to a small geographic area hasn't magically made me shop only at small, locally owned independent businesses. I thought maybe it would. Despite the impression some have that there's no shopping in New West, it's actually pretty easy to find major chains to shop at and to shop solely at big chains.

    One of my main goals for the year is to change my shopping habits and include smaller independents in my routine shopping. So far, it hasn't happened yet, so I'm going to make February no big chain grocery shopping month. I'm curious to see how that will change our eating for the month and especially how it will change our grocery bill.