Shop local makes sense – and makes me sweat.

So far my well-intentioned plans for buying local Christmas gifts this year have failed.  I did very well last year between a very good Christmas market in Dingle and an Original Kerry holiday shop trip.  Please check out the link for some great Irish craft & design that comes from Kerry and see my recommendations below based on last year’s shop local success.

This year my attempts have amounted to showing up at the Original Kerry pop-up shop in Tralee that was advertised as open every day before Christmas only to find it closed for the afternoon. I had two hours to get all my Christmas shopping that can’t be done with two pests in tow and shopping local falls into this category so I raced across town in the pouring rain carrying a pirate sword only to find a cheery hand-written sign telling me the store was open only until 1:30 that day.

Second attempt was walking through a local Christmas Craft fair in the village hall and buying the kids a piece of pizza to split between them after ushering my son away from a ‘magician’ trying to wow him into buying an assortment of magic tricks by showing him a jumping $50 bill in Ireland where there are no dollars and Mr. Magic was English and had a long grey pony tail and swirly patterned vest.  My son was a little bit wowed – I was not.

Third attempt was a big Christmas market that I went to last year and found some great presents.  This year I convinced my husband that it would be a nice family day out in Dingle.  The venue was changed the day before and I only found out by chance from a neighbour and the most appealing stand turned out to be Cookie Monster and reindeer cupcakes.

These failures, along with the well-meaning Christmas Shop Local campaigns, have made me defensive about my online mega store shopping this year.  The brow beating tone of Shop Local campaigns have always made me feel pointlessly rebellious because of the inferred obligation  to buy from local sellers. But what if there gluten-free pie is horrible or what if it’s your neighbor who whose dog poops in your yard or what if you don’t feel like apologizing 5-10 times for having small children around their ‘art’?  Let’s be honest there are HUGE personal (selfish) benefits to shopping with large merchandisers that have nothing to do with prices.  Here’s are some problems for me – a mother with two small children who is not going to hire a babysitter to go shopping.

Problem #1 with ‘Shopping Local’ – Logistics

Are you ever going to turn up at Toys R Us and find them closed at 4 pm on the second Wednesday of December? The laid-back informality of local producers that is supposed to be so charming to shoppers translates into shops having random hours (not advertised online), crappy websites, no one answering the phones and events or markets being poorly organised, stocked or cancelled.  This is not the norm but I don’t have the time or energy to risk it.  I don’t think spending money should require a massive energy input on the consumer’s end. If it does, than it feels like a pity purchase and that is just ridiculous outside of school bake sales, gift wrapping fundraisers and lemonade stands.

Physical logistics are a problem, especially doorways. The doorways to lovely local boutiques are not wide enough to get in a stroller. One hundred year old buildings were not designed for buggys with all-terrain wheels that fit 5 children and two shopping bags   My general rule is that if I can’t get a stroller in without requiring someone to swing open an extra door, another person to try to lift the front wheel up wet granite steps and my bag falling off my shoulder and either knocking over a display or else dumping all my contents out, then the shop is not meant for babies or toddlers. Once you get in the logistics will be a nightmare.  Getting to these shops is also not easy because they are in quaint down towns where you have to circle for parking and then walk through winter storms to these tiny doorway shops.

Problem #2 – Face to Face contact

Is it always a good thing to ‘get to know” the crafts person or owner? Is it just me that feels terribly uncomfortable looking around when I know the owner or even worse when perusing at a market and then walking away with nothing after making chit-chat with the woman who lives up the road and makes dream catchers, or worse, angel art? ugh.  Or entering any number of small boutiques in the Old Port and being greeted by an appraising look by a well-groomed woman who is more interested in modeling the merchandise than customer service.  Amazon doesn’t care if you shop in your holy slippers stuffing your face with gingerbread covered in frosting with your bra slung over the couch (hypothetically of course).

(I worked in one of these shops years ago and I could actually see the discomfort in shopper’s faces when they looked at the price tags and then mimed to each other via eyebrows and glances “Holy shit $50 for a baby tee-shirt” until they could politely back out of the tiny store and say out loud “Holy shit $50 for a baby’s tee-shirt!”

Problem # 3 – Quality Assurance

I’m sure it’s pretty clear now that I am not a good shopper so if I am shopping than I want to buy something. Craft markets and local produce shops too often feature knitted tea-pot covers, beaded jewelry, jam, felt flowers and lately paté and olives.  There is just not a granny nice-enough to make me buy a tea-pot cover.  No matter how deserving the makers are, if their products are crappy than why should their community feel obligated to buy them? There are also high-quality natural skin care lines, beautiful jewelry, flower arrangements, chocolates, knits and great foods at most markets but they need to be the majority and easier to buy.

I think campaigns need to focus on raising the standard of local producers and shop keepers.  Someone needs to start saying no to that lovely lady Agnes or to Mr. Magic at a Christmas market. Local producers need to regulate themselves to ensure quality for the shoppers. Consumers can spend money where ever they want.  It’s great to have a reminder that buying locally keeps small businesses alive and hence rural communities or down towns thriving but I am not going to feel guilty for shopping with a glass of wine in front of The Desperate Housewives of New Jersey!

I will put my recommendations for great local Dingle or Kerry products in a post later this week.