I love shopping small in Akron. It is always such a heartwarming experience.
Whether I am walking into a vintage shop filled to the brim with nostalgia, or a chic boutique stocked with all the latest styles in clothes and jewelry, the earnest friendliness of the shopkeepers is encouraging. It is quite easy to fall in love with shopping when they know you, if not by name, then by sight.
I figured that after seeing the same people walk through your doors day after day, getting to know them over time is quite easy. How about the small shop owners who don’t have a fixed location? Is it as easy for them to treat every stranger that comes to them as friends or neighbors? With those questions in mind I ventured into Crafty Mart, not as a customer but as a booth worker. I wanted to see how easy or difficult it would be to get people to shop local and buy small on the run.
I try to purchase as much of what I consume right here in the city: groceries, clothing, artwork, music, gas, etc. Even though a lot of what I use isn’t made in Akron, like the gasoline I buy for my car or a lot of the food I eat, buying it within the city limits ensures that my city gets its share of the tax revenue. I don’t see why my shopping habits should support the economy of a city where I don’t live, whose parks I don’t play in, or whose schools my children will never attend. I shop small here because Akron needs the money, my money.
As I ventured into the organized chaos that is Akron’s largest arts and crafts show a half hour earlier than I would have had I been shopping, it was immediately impressed upon me that I was getting there late. Most vendors had already unloaded their merchandise, stashed boxes of surplus under their tables, arranged their wares in the best possible lighting and settings, and were busy with the minutiae of setting up shop.
I wandered around the room looking for Wesley Ian and Kaley Foster, the two vendors who promised me a a small part in their commercial venture Two Colonies One Hive. Today I was going to be scooping and bottling honey for The Akron Honey Company. Sweet, right? Ha, ha, ha, no. Sticky and tricky, but easy to manage with a little practice. Wesley was kind enough to do it a few times while I watched: press scoop into the wax, pierce, slide scoop up and catch what falls into the jar. He did it as if it were magic. I did it as if I was afraid the bees were going to come back to claim their honey. It was fun, and by the end of the day I was a pro — almost.
That was my job for the day. I jarred more honey than I could possibly eat in a year. I managed to wow a few kids, and impress an adult or two, but that isn’t what I learned in earnest. I doubt I will ever own my own hive, let alone put into practice what I learned. What I did come away with was how much work it is to get that honey off the shop table and into the shopper’s hand.
First off, you have to smile. Smile before you say hello. Smile as you nod to those who are just looking. Smile while asking men if they would like to taste your honey, smile as you ask women if they would like to smell the beeswax. Smile as you offer to entertain children for the second or two it takes their parents to decide on making a purchase. Smile as you answer every question that customer who will buy nothing has for you, and smile as you clean up the mess of too many samples dripping on you.
Smile, smile, smile and then smile yet again as you thank your customer for spending one dollar, or $100. Smile with sincerity, because even though you are exchanging goods for cash you are still making a connection. They didn’t have to buy your goods, but they did and you are thankful for that small token of faith they have given you and your product.
That is the gist of shopping small. Shopping local creates human interaction beyond the, “May I help you?” and “Have a nice day!” Shopping local is how you let your neighborhood merchants know you have faith in them and their ability to treat you fairly. In return they will do everything they can to assure you your faith in them isn’t misplaced.
Sure, your local grocer worries about the bottom line, but mostly he worries about you and what you like to eat, and how you feel when you are in his shop because his shop is an extension of his home.
It is the same at the cafes, record shops, dance studios, frame shops and every other small shop that lines the edges of Main or Market Street, Cuyahoga Falls or Tallmadge Avenue, Kenmore Boulevard or Canton Road, or the street you are standing on.
Shopping small in Akron strengthens the ties with those who provide you with goods and services, bolsters the strength of your community and helps fund the city services you have come to depend on to make your life cleaner and easier to navigate. In addition to saving you some wear and tear on your car, and gas and driving time, it makes shopping for needs and wants a more fulfilling experience.
Crafty Mart provides creative and engaging opportunities for artists and community members to foster artistic, thoughtful, and community-focused lifestyles. The organization hosts pop-up events all throughout the year. Visit www.craftymart.org for info.
Two Colonies One Hive is a business cooperative between Urban Buzz and Akron Honey Company. For info, visit www.urbnbuzz.com.