Faith in Vermont: Shopping. Locally. (With Kids).

<table border="1" cellpadding="1" cellspacing="1" style="width: 200px;"> <tbody> <tr> <td> <img alt="" src="" style="width: 300px; height: 400px;" /></td> </tr> </tbody></table><p> <em>The view from behind the car cart.</em></p><p> &nbsp;</p><p> I moved to Vermont resigned to do all my shopping online. Coming from California&rsquo;s Bay Area, where Target, Home Depot, Ikea, Toys &lsquo;R Us, and virtually every other major chain store were less than 30 minutes away, I couldn&rsquo;t imagine driving an hour or more for the kind of quick, cheap, and easy shopping I&rsquo;d been used to; nor could I imagine that I&rsquo;d find industrial-sized boxes of diapers or dirt-cheap Scandinavian furniture in our small Vermont town.</p><p> Also this: I had three children under the age of four when we first moved here. This made hour-long drives to Vermont&rsquo;s handful of big-box stores seem about as appealing as cleaning out a chicken coop with my tongue &ndash; and it made local shopping appear nearly as bad. Throughout our first summer in Vermont the only &ldquo;live&rdquo; shopping I could handle was buying groceries at Hannaford&rsquo;s. There, I could strap 2/3 of our children into an enormous, unwieldy &ldquo;car cart&rdquo; (a shopping cart combined with a two-seated plastic &ldquo;car&rdquo;), toss them free sugar cookies from the bakery (available for children under age 12), and be relatively sure that they&rsquo;d last until check-out. Of course, if no car carts were available, I might as well give up and go home.</p><p> Over time, however, I gradually ventured out to more local stores. The fact that our daughters were getting older and (generally) more presentable in public helped, of course. But it was more than that; I started to understand that shopping locally was an important aspect of life in a small-town community.</p><p> It&rsquo;s convenient to order what I need with a click of my keyboard and have it appear on my doorstep, but it&rsquo;s also isolating. I don&rsquo;t <em>see </em>anybody when I shop like that. Granted, many times I don&rsquo;t <em>want </em>to see anybody when I&rsquo;m shopping with my children. But part of shopping in a small town is that<em>you</em> <em>always see somebody</em>: from school, from church, from the office, from the neighborhood. Even the store clerks know us by now.</p><p> This keeps me humble, but it also keeps me <em>human</em>; as a stay-at-home mom, interactions while running errands may be the only grown-up conversations I have all day. I&rsquo;m also encouraged by other people&rsquo;s kindness; never have I been told so often, &ldquo;You sure have your hands full!&rdquo; <em>Yes, I do! </em>Occasionally there are longer conversations, when a fellow shopper (usually someone over the age of 60) takes the time to ask my daughters&rsquo; names and ages. These exchanges usually end with the other person saying something like, &ldquo;Oh yes, we had seven children in five years on our dairy farm,&rdquo; which makes me wonder why I&rsquo;m feeling overwhelmed in the first place.</p><p> None of that has ever happened while I was shopping online or in a big-box store.</p><p> Another reason I like taking my business local is that, as much as I appreciate the ease and cheapness of big-box and online shopping, I don&rsquo;t really want my town to become a typical American suburb, filled with generic chain stores. There are a handful of smaller chain stores here already, but, as in most Vermont towns, they&rsquo;re located on the outskirts along with the car dealerships. Venture into our &ldquo;historic downtown&rdquo; area, and you&rsquo;ll find a Main Street lined with locally owned small businesses. I want to support these businesses; it would break my heart to see our downtown become like so many others across America: a stretch of vacant storefronts.</p><p> The reality of shopping with three young children can still be ugly; there are certain stores in town &ndash; beautiful places filled with breakable things &ndash; that I&rsquo;ve yet to enter. I stare wistfully at these stores as I push our stroller past and think, &ldquo;Maybe in five years.&rdquo; (If I happen to catch the eye of a sales clerk through the window, their look more or less agrees: &ldquo;Lose the kids, lady, and then we&rsquo;re in business.&rdquo;) My daughters and I venture into a charming downtown gift store twice a year to pick out birthday presents for their grandmothers, and we almost always leave with a broken item that we&rsquo;ve had to purchase. (Last month it was a shiny plastic bee; yes, it turns out, plastic is breakable, too!)</p><p> But most of the stores in town are surprisingly kid-friendly, and my daughters and I have found little pleasures in each that help us survive a morning of errands: there&rsquo;s the basket of free peanuts at Paris Farmers&rsquo; Co-op, and the huge rack of Schliech animals by the Agway entrance, from which only the offer of a sticker at the cash register can distract my girls. The Vermont Book Shop has a great children&rsquo;s section (they&rsquo;ll also order out-of-print children&rsquo;s books that we can&rsquo;t find at the library), and there are fun magnets and wind-up toys by the check-out counter. Ben Franklin is usually a safe bet, provided I divert the girls to the toy section having prepared them for &ldquo;looking, not buying.&rdquo; And Junebug, a children&rsquo;s resale boutique with a playroom off of the main store, might as well be public daycare as far as my kids are concerned.</p><p> Even the car carts and sugar cookies of Hannaford&rsquo;s pale as the weather warms. Come summer, we&rsquo;ve discovered the fun of picking our own fruit at any number of wonderful local orchards. And between May and October, we bypass the Hannaford&rsquo;s produce section entirely, opting instead for a weekly CSA share at Elmer Farm, where the girls play with their friends while I select fresh vegetables from the farm stand and pick flowers from the garden.</p><p> There will always be some things I can&rsquo;t get in town, so I&rsquo;m not sure that I&rsquo;ll ever fully wean myself from online shopping. But these days, if I need something, I try to find it locally before turning to my computer. And that very act of pausing before I click &ldquo;Submit Order&rdquo; forces me to consider <em>what I really</em> <em>need</em>. So, in the end, shopping locally means that I shop purposefully, I shop communally, and I shop <em>less</em> &ndash; which is always a good thing!</p><p> <em>NOTE: The week I wrote this column I came across two wonderful (and local!) blog posts on shopping locally: one appeared on the parenting site </em><a href=""><em>Min..., and the other was written by the owner of local shop </em><a href=" them a read!</em></p><p> &nbsp;</p><p> <em>Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit manager. Since moving to Addison County in 2011, her work has involved caring for a house in the woods, three young daughters (with another on the way), one adorable puppy &mdash; and writing for her blog, </em><a href=""><em>The Pickle Patch</em><em>.</em></a></p>

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Addison County Independent

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Middlebury, VT 05753

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