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Monitor Board of Contributors: Shopping where it matters

I expect most of you do your Christmas shopping at the mall. Doesn’t require much thinking. You buy what’s advertised and try to get it on sale. All part of the great seasonal retail ritual. Large corporations depend on this ritual for their profits. They are glad that you oblige. But your purchases are mere tiny fractions of percentage points on their charts. They don’t really give a damn about you.

Now, go into a local shop, craft fair or independent book store. Buy a pair of socks that someone knitted herself, or a wreath or ornament possibly made by the very person you are buying it from. Buy a book written by an author who lives not far from you, who wasn’t published by some big New York house with full-page ads in the New York Times. The crafter, the author, the person who works at that store and the owner of that store, all are glad that you shopped there. You are more than just tiny fractions of percentage points. You are a smile, a face, a name they can come to know.

Dehumanized capitalism vs. human being to human being.

I’ll admit, I have a stake in this. I’m one of those authors. I want to thank each and every one of you out there who has purchased a copy of my book, Archimedes Nesselrode (available, by the way, at Gibson’s). You aren’t just a percentage of sales. You’re a person who has believed in my work enough to plop money down. And if you then took the time to write a review, or even to drop by where I work and tell me how much you enjoyed the book, thank you! Your praise means a lot to me. Much more than your praise of their latest books means to big, famous, mass-market authors.

Buying that pair of socks, that landscape or note cards done by a local artist, that handmade bird house or chess board, buying from the person who made it, or from the small business owner who sells things made by others, means a lot more to those you buy from than it does when you buy something cranked out in a sweatshop or slave-wage factory and sold by huge chain outlets. Also, buying something from the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen instead of Walmart is the difference between precious and pedestrian, heirloom and disposable.

Go to the library, but don’t just grab the latest bestseller by a name you recognize. Ask if they have a special section for local authors. Take out the books and try them. It costs you nothing, and you might discover something wonderful. If you do, recommend it to a friend. Better yet, go to your local independent bookstore and buy a copy to give to a friend. Now you have done something splendid on many levels: You’ve used the library to discover a new author to enjoy (and the library appreciates your patronage); you’ve helped support that author, who is probably struggling for recognition and deeply appreciates that support; you’ve invested in a small business, the bookstore, which helps the community. And you’ve helped a friend discover something new and wonderful (and if you’re an avid reader, you know how exciting that can be!).

You work hard for your money; why flush it away on something mass-produced and meaningless when, with a bit more thought, you can invest where it will do the most good and be appreciated deeply? When you enrich the lives of others, you enrich your own life. When you support artists and artisans in your community, you make your community a richer place. When you shop at local businesses, your money stays closer to home. All it takes is stopping to think, to decide what is more important.

Break the mindless cycle of seeing ads and buying products, buying what the big corporations want you to buy, spending your money the way you are told you should spend it. Try shopping in a way that does more good than just a moment of gee thanks when a present is unwrapped.

Give the gift of your patronage to those who are genuinely grateful for it. Turn the drudgery of holiday shopping into an act of mindful caring.

And add a bit more joy to the holiday season.

(Justine “Mel” Graykin lives and writes in Deerfield, and practices freelance philosophy on her website at justinegraykin.com.)

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