For an easier go at it, try shopping locally

Kai Hagen

January 8, 2004

I was going to start this column with the admission that I hate shopping.

I realize, of course, that makes me either un-American or ... well ... male, according to modern media stereotypes, anyway. And I watch enough television to have seen more than enough ads portraying the hapless husband dragged along for a day of shopping at one big sale or another.

I try to avoid making such generalizations, and am even less enthusiastic about being stereotyped. But, heck, that could be me if not for the fact that I didn't marry someone who thinks of shopping as a form of recreation.

I'll admit, a distaste for shopping was not one of the things I was thinking about or looking for when I got married. We were probably too young, and too broke, for it to show up on my radar screen. But I consider it a bonus that nobody in our family would list shopping as a pastime, or as a ... gulp ... hobby. Frankly, it's hard for me to wrap my mind around the concept.

But it shouldn't be, I suppose. After all, we live in a world where the average American sees something like 3,000 ads of one sort or another every day, and where malls have become the favorite hang out spot for teenagers. When consumer confidence wanes and the economy dips, the president and others are likely to remind us that we can fulfill part of our patriotic duty by shopping. Throughout December, the daily news tracks how our shopping is going this year compared to other years and current projections. And, if our shopping spree is not up to par, we are constantly reminded about the impact on our economy, from struggling retail chains to local jobs.

It's almost enough to make me feel guilty about being a reluctant shopper.

Of course, I realize that consumer spending is a critical element of our national economy, not to mention the economies of China, Taiwan and elsewhere. It isn't my intention to play Scrooge in the midst of so much cheerful holiday spending. After all, in addition to enjoying both the spirit and trappings of the holiday season, I'm not immune to the delights of exchanging gifts with my family and other relatives.

I don't put off shopping because I'm lazy. Or because I'm busy. Or because I'm waiting for prices to drop. It's really that, for me, it just isn't fun. Still, I couldn't open the column with the blanket statement that I hate shopping, because there are enough exceptions to make me a hypocrite. Give me a gift certificate for a bookstore, or an electronics store, or a hardware store, and I can spend it as fast as you can say, "Can I help you, sir?"

This holiday season, as in others, I had to overcome my reluctance and get out there and do some shopping. Needless to say, however, waiting until the last minute doesn't help if traffic jams and crowded indoor malls and big stores and harried salespeople and long lines and too many choices gives you a headache.

So, this year I decided to try something different.

Instead of heading for a one-big-stop shopping experience at a local mall, I drove to downtown Frederick. And now, a couple weeks afterward, I'm wondering why I didn't try that before.

Not that I don't frequent and enjoy downtown Frederick. I do. Alone or with family, I go downtown to use our wonderful library, see a show at the Weinberg Center, eat at one of a number of distinct and excellent restaurants, get a haircut at a real barber shop, have a beer with friends in an establishment with character, watch a parade or enjoy the annual "In The Streets" festival, and so on.

I just never thought to do all my Christmas shopping there. And, from the looks of things, such as the horrid traffic jams on the outskirts of town, I'm not the only one.

I can't say the experience has turned me into an enthusiastic shopper, but it was a breath of fresh air.

Historic downtown Frederick was lovely, all decked out in holiday lights and colors. Traffic wasn't bad. Parking was no problem.

Shopkeepers were pleasant and helpful, and available. There were all sorts of great stores and gifts to choose from. I didn't wait in a single line all afternoon. I was able to drop off a few items at my car between stops. And, in the middle of it all, I was able to enjoy a relaxed lunch without waiting in a long line for an unsatisfying meal at a noisy and windowless fast food franchise.

While I didn't exactly feel patriotic when it was over, I have to admit it felt good to support locally owned, independent stores.

I actually had a pretty good time. And, at the end of it, no headache.

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