Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Eat locally, dress globally?

As the daughter of an independent business owner, I like to support local merchants. In some ways, that's ridiculously easy; in others, not so much.

I'm a chain restaurant hater. Okay, I'll drink Starbucks coffee & will even eat breakfast there if we're on vacation & there's nowhere else to go. For a sit-down meal, however, I'd rather dine at a dive in a questionable neighborhood (or just stay home & eat microwave popcorn) than go to a chain. Why pay good money for frozen food - yes, chains often serve frozen meals! - that might pass muster as food court fare, but costs as much as dinner at our favorite Indian restaurant, where the food is delicious? Fortunately for our marriage, my husband feels the same way. As residents of a metropolitan area, we are also very spoiled for choice when it comes to great, locally-owned restaurants. Baltimore may not be New York, but it is home to a wide variety of eateries, serving almost every cuisine you could think of at many different price points.

When it comes to grocery shopping, however, I'm not such a purist. I hate to admit it, but convenience is a big factor here.There's a major chain supermarket right by my office, a Whole Foods on the way home from work, & a couple of Trader Joe's locations near other stores we frequent. Recently, I have been making an effort to buy most of our veggies at the farmer's market. Produce prices generally compare favorably with those at the supermarket, and quality does tend to be higher. One of the bakers at our local farmers market makes truly amazing bread - seed-filled, grainy stuff that makes my sense of portion control go right out the window at the first bite - but at up to $6 a loaf, it's not the sort of thing I can afford to buy all the time. Besides, the farmer's market only happens once a week, so if I forget to buy a certain item, or if it won't be fresh when I need it in a few days, I'm out of luck.

Shopping for clothing locally is even trickier. Basically, if you aren't wealthy, good luck finding stylish, affordable basics (tailored work clothes, tees, etc.) at locally owned stores. Although Baltimore has some fabulous local boutiques, as an employee of a nonprofit organization, I can only afford to shop their clearance racks. I've gotten some of my best special-occasion outfits that way, but for everyday stuff, I often find myself hitting mall stores, or their websites. However, since my closets & dressers are quite full & my wallet is thinner than it's been in a while due to the loss of my second job, I'm trying to reverse that trend. For starters, I'm simply shopping less. I'm also buying more vintage/secondhand items, both on eBay & in person, & patronizing smaller labels like Trashy Diva as well. Okay, shopping online doesn't keep money in Baltimore any more than venturing into H&M does, but at least it can help support a small business somewhere.

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