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Sure, we're a mostly Christian nation that embraces crass commercialism. Look at us scamper like coked-up lab rats into shopping centers on Black Friday, knocking over old ladies and baby strollers, gnawing and tearing to get the latest "it" gadget for our increasingly isolated, home-media-dominated lives. Forget that much of the stuff we buy will be obsolete in six months. To quote one of my favorite Woody Allen lines, "If Jesus came back and saw what was going on in His name, He'd never stop throwing up."
But there are ways to shop that better contribute to the local economy and have less of an impact on the environment (unlike those lead-tainted toys made in overcrowded sweat shops and shipped in bunker-fueled tankers from China). Several studies have shown that buying locally means that more money stays local. One study in 2002 compared the impact of a new Borders bookstore in Austin, Texas, with two locally owned bookstores, finding that when a customer spent $100 at Borders, only $13 stayed in the community, while the same amount spent at local stores kept $45 circulating locally. So here are a few places that will keep your money within eyeshot.
One of my first stops is always The Bizarre Market, located upstairs at Chop Suey Books' original location at 1317 W. Cary St. There you can find a host of quirky and fun homemade items -- among them fridge magnets, T-shirts, jewelry, soap and framed artwork. The newer store, Chop Suey Tuey (in Carytown) has a good selection of new books, including several by local authors such as the National Book Award finalist in nonfiction, "Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution" by Dr. Woody Holton, history professor at University of Richmond.
A great place to purchase local artwork jewelry, pottery, bags, paintings, sculpture and handcrafted leather is at Art Works Studios and Galleries (320 Hull St.). This gallery represents more than 100 local artists, and co-owner Paula Demmert says there's plenty of wonderful art for $50 and below that would make great gifts or "art for every taste and budget," as she puts it. Small art shows are also running through the holidays at Art6 (6 E. Broad St.).
In the vicinity of Virginia Commonwealth University, stop by None Such Art and Apparel (918 W. Grace St.) and check out the local art on display as well as some funky clothes. But you may want to call first the store keeps odd hours. Nearby, there's Rumors Boutique (404 N. Harrison St.), which carries "three lines of locally made jewelry, and four locally made clothing lines," co-owner Marshe Wyche says. They also have a section of local music, both vinyl and CD. But the best place for local music is still Plan 9 Music (3012 W. Cary St.), obviously.
Another place to get locally made jewelry is the relatively new shop Alchemy (3125 W. Cary St.), which specializes in eco-friendly clothing and apparel. Owner Amy McFadden also sells everything from reusable shopping bags to holiday stockings made from men's suits to the ever-popular bottle openers made from recycled bike chains.
A collective group that usually has several holiday gift markets for handmade local art is the Richmond Craft Mafia. If you're just starting out selling your goods, you can join this supportive group for $50, and its members will help connect you with like-minded, do-it-yourself folks exploring craft media and ways to reach a larger audience. Check out the Web site at www.richmondcraftmafia.com
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