Occupy Downtown

Every year at this time, I find myself thinking about how to make the holiday season simpler and more meaningful. More joyful and less stressful. A reflection of our family’s values and what really matters to us, rather than a last-minute scramble to make sure there are enough wrapped packages under the tree.

Last weekend, while checking things off my to-do list downtown, I suddenly had a revelation: I am so lucky to live in a town where there still IS such a thing as “downtown.”

And that’s when I decided that, much as I appreciate the impulse behind the Occupy Wall Street movement, my own theme this holiday season is going to be: “Occupy Downtown.”

My hometown is still a place where you can buy organic vegetables or a snowblower, a cup of pea soup to go or a fair-trade basket from Peru, art supplies or plumbing supplies, antique linens or a toy for a toddler, a hand knit hat or a pair of hiking boots, local honey or imported cheese. You can browse at the Toadstool, attend a poetry reading, eat lunch at the diner, stroll through an art gallery, and go to a movie. Or you can drop off your dry cleaning, pick up batteries and trash bags, bring a load of cans to the recycling center, and get your oil changed. Chances are, wherever you go, someone will know your name. The bag boy at the market will carry your groceries out to your car. The owner of the clothing store will know it’s your birthday month and what size jeans you wear. The clerk in the bookstore will have saved the last copy of Joan Didion just for you.

This is the way small-town life is supposed to be. This is my definition of the good life. It is also a way of life that is vanishing before our eyes. If we want our downtowns to survive, we have to inhabit them.

“Out-sourcing” is not just something big corporations do, it’s a habit I’ve fallen into myself. How often do I click a button and order from Amazon, instead of buying from a shopkeeper right here in town? More often than I like to admit. The truth is, I can buy every single thing I need or want locally. And yet too many of my dollars end up elsewhere, in the well-stuffed pockets of huge corporations that have no connection with my everyday life.

Well, I’m done. I care about the place I live and I care about the people who make this town the lively, vibrant, inviting community it is. These folks don’t live on air. They depend on cash register receipts. Their stores can’t continue to exist just for my idle sight-seeing and window-shopping pleasure; they need me — they need all of us — to walk through the doors and open our wallets.

And so, I vow here and now to Occupy Downtown this holiday season. I’m shopping in my own back yard, and no where else. I may buy less, but I’ll feel good about where every dollar lands. I’ll take time to chat with the shopkeepers and let them know how grateful I am that they’re here. Simple. Meaningful. Stress free.

I invite you to join me. Occupy your own downtown. Swear off one-click ordering, and go out and see what that funky little shop on the corner has to offer. Our dollars have power. When we spend them locally, we put money back into the towns we love — for city services, road repairs, schools. We support the businesses that meet our needs and desires, that hire our neighbors, that donate to our causes, and that enrich our lives. And we connect face-to-face with real people instead of interfacing with computer screens and feeding the coffers of anonymous corporations.

A holiday gift for you!

I’d love to send you a Christmas gift from my town. Leave a note here and share the “Occupy Downtown” message someplace else — Facebook, Twitter, a blog, whatever. I will draw a name at random after midnight on November 23 to receive a special gift from my town.

And speaking of independent bookstores. . .

My dear friend Ann Patchett is doing a pretty amazing job of occupying downtown herself. When the last independent bookstore in Nashville closed its doors, she decided to open her own. But she’s under no illusions; even a bookstore owned by a best-selling author can’t exist without customers. As she says, “This is not a showroom, this is not where you come in to scan your barcode. If you like this thing, it’s your responsibility to keep this thing alive.”

Here’s the whole story — page one of today’s New York Times.

for my reflections & inspiration

your comments

  1. jen goldman says:

    I will re-post.

    btw-also want to read joan didion’s new book

  2. Cecilia Stuopis says:

    An excellent idea… There has been too much attention on Wall Street, and not enough on Main Street… It always feels great to shop locally, for all involved.

  3. Hi Katrina! This is a beautiful tribute to your downtown. We have a wonderful independent bookstore, not where I live now–in my hometow–and I struggle with the same thing. Ordering online to save some money, or paying a bit more for a book, in person. So, when we visit this beloved bookstore, we do make a conscious decision to buy there, to support the store, because it brings so much joy to us. We want it to stay in business because there’s nothing like browsing a bookstore, looking around and holding a book in your hand. Online can’t replace that feeling.

  4. By the way, the independent bookstore I mentioned is Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville, IL. I would love for you to come do a book talk and signing, Katrina!


  5. As I was reading your post I thought, “I need to forward Katrina that link to the Ann Patchett article!” (Can I say how jealous I am that she’s your dear friend?) I should have known you were one step ahead of me. Growing up, I was often frustrated when my parents insisted on doing their Christmas shopping in downtown Kent, Washington, when all I wanted was things from the mall. Thirty-three years later I can appreciate what they were doing, and the values they were trying to instill in me. I really admire your efforts, and it inspires me to do the same. We often travel for the holidays and buy very few gifts, what has become an unintended but welcome tradition. This weekend I’m going to the Holiday Ole, a shopping excursion featuring local merchants, sponsored by my local Junior League chapter.

    • Chris Grant says:

      Hi, Katrina!
      Thank you for your inspiring comments about the importance of supporting our local merchants. Far too many of them have already been forced out of existence. It is incumbent upon all of us to do our best to support these hard-working neighbors of ours. My favorite singer, Alan Jackson, dedicated a song to these wonderful people ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qBh-m1yTZS0 )and I hope you and your readers will give it a listen. It hits at the very core of your most memorable article.
      Best wishes to you and yours for a wonderful “down home” holiday season!
      Chris Grant
      Kent, Washington

  6. Elaine Tohal says:

    For too long we wanted more choice and we shopped the malls. Now, we are beginning to see what that does to our small towns. I love your idea.

  7. Hi Katrina, Perhaps when we Occupy Downtown we do Occupy Wall Street—moving, as you encourage us to do, from anonymous consuming back toward artisanal, local, personal and interconnected art and commerce.

    But even in Bedford Falls, and in every wonderful town and wonderful life, we may yet find a Mr. Potter who needs some occupying of his own. Perhaps it’s the realization that we are community, even family, that may empower us to act accordingly and bring Christmas cheer to bear in our Modern TImes that bear much resemblance to the Industrial Revolution London Charles Dickens once Occupied.

    Here’s to finding the hundred percent in our own backyards and downtowns and parks and re-creations. May blessed be the cheese makers—and the book sellers this Holiday Season.

  8. Kimberlee Manor says:

    I absolutely agree! As a former bookseller and small town florist, I believe in the power and necessity of local business. I am always forwarding your emails to friends, and posting in blogs, and am certainly reposting this one. Don’t forget small business Saturday on the 26th of November, for your everyday shopping…not just holiday gift. It means so much to so many!

  9. Julie Brennan Clucas says:

    Katrina you HAVE TO come and visit us in Glen Ellyn – you would love our charming downtown! AND we have an amazing shop I think you would enjoy browsing called “Just The Bookstore”!

  10. Love this! I plan on shopping local on Shop Small Business Saturday, on Sat. Nov. 26th.

  11. Thank you for this post encouraging small store shopping. I work in a small hand made chocolate store near Whiteface Mt in New York. A large percentage of our buisness is done at Christmas. We are ready willing and able to serve your Chocolate needs. See you there!

  12. I spent last weekend knocking out about two-thirds of my Christmas shopping in a very small town. Interesting side bar to your email…I was in a shop whose owner told me that they were so tired of everything they ordered coming from out of our country that she and her staff had started making items to sell and they were on display in the store. I immediately bought four of those items and they are perfect! That shop owner definitely has an innovative mind!

  13. Colleen Fleming says:

    Love this idea! I am going to repost, too. I live in a cohousing community with a farm and get as much of my food right here as I can, it may cost a little more, but I know who is making a living from it.
    Thanks, Katrina. I am also looking forward to Joan Didion’s new book. And so much more.

  14. I love this! It is so, so true that we must support our town(s) and shop locally. I worry that there will be a day when we won’t be able to do this if the world continues to communicate and live via the internet. It has an important place, but there is no place like our home towns and living in a community, where we actually talk to one another. Let’s NOT lose this. Thank you for this thoughtful post. I, too, will shop locally.

  15. My husband is a small businessman, and we have made an effort, wherever possible, to use local businesses…from the meat market where they know our name to regional wine shops. I applaud you Katrina. Small businesses employ many good people.

  16. I shared this blog post on Facebook … as I have with several of your others. I look forward to finding “you” in my inbox and have tremendous appreciation for your perspective and beautiful writing. Thank you for helping this mom of two, ages 6 and 7, treasure the ordinary days.

  17. What a nice life you have! We are a military family and have lived all over the world — which we appreciate and love. Still, I hope to live and support somewhere like that someday.

  18. Shelly Howard says:

    Great idea. Just make sure to check that it’s not “MADE IN CHINA”. We live in Okinawa Japan on a military base, and most of the products in our exchange ARE made in China. Shame….

  19. Thank you for this. I too am trying to simplify the holidays and what I did was order everything online. And yet, I bemoan the lack of main streets even though I live minutes from Georgetown which has one of the most spectacular main streets in the whole country.

    Sometimes we don’t see what we do clearly and we need someone else to point out the obvious. Thank you!

    BTW your town sounds fantastic!!

  20. A wonderful idea. Thank you for sharing!

  21. Cathy Hackert says:

    Dear Katrina,
    Even though we have never met, through your books, I feel we a kindred spirits. You have truly enriched my life with your words as I search for meaning in the second act of my life. I retired as a public school orchestra teacher after 33 years. I also have had a second career as a musician and play professionally on cello in the Albany Symphony. Searching for direction, I found your book and at least I know someone else has gone down this path. Our daughter is in college, not successful, and searching for her own passions and direction. I do what I can to help, but until she realizes that I really do have good advice, she will continue to struggle. Parenting is sooo hard!

    I have been shopping local as much as I can too. The village of Ballston Spa, is a Fair Trade Village and most shops carry some fair trade items. Our local historical society has great locally made gifts.Being home during the day has made such a difference for my Christmas shopping. It’s not a crazy rush anymore. (Being a musician and High School Orchestra director makes the holidays hell!) There is a shopping day called “Small Saturday” which is the Saturday after Thanksgiving, in which everyone is encouraged to shop in small, locally owned stores. As for me, I have NEVER gone out on “Black Friday”. This year I am also going to give my friends gift certificates for cooking lessons and gardening assistance from me. Money is short, but my abilities, knowledge and experience is long and this is the best gift that I can give to my family and friends- the gift of my hands and mind.

  22. We need to buy more local in a time when everyone is encouraging global.

  23. Polly Duprez says:

    Hi Katrina – thank you for your insight! You do have a beautiful downtown, in fact my sister and I sometimes having “outings” there, since she lives 10 minutes away. I am better at window-shopping than spending, but next time I’m there I will remember your point that they do not survive on “air”!
    Speaking of Toadstool – it would be a beautiful thing for you to do a reading there – any plans for that? Enjoy your holidays and your holiday shopping!

  24. Wylie Hunt says:

    Love this, Katrina! We definitely need to support our local merchants!

  25. This is a timely post. I have purchased my holiday cards and my Christmas crackers from Steeles. I have done my fair share of shopping at The Black Swan. And the Toadstool is not far behind. It feels good to support local businesses and keep our downtown thriving.

  26. You are so lucky to still have a downtown indeed. Supporting independent merchants should be an offshoot of Occupy Wallstreet. If small businesses are providing most of job growth while big companies pocket their profits, then supporting small businesses is the way to save our towns and help the economy recover.

  27. Tamara Hansen says:

    Such and easy thing that every*one* can do. I echo Cathy Hackert’s thoughts, “You have truly enriched my life with your words”. Thank you.

  28. What a glorious idea. I live in a seen-better-days Midwestern town with a downtown that is struggling to hold on. Your post is an important reminder to me that my dollars can have a role to play in helping create the kind of town in which I want to raise my children. Thank you, as always, for the inspiration. xo

  29. P.S. Thought this post at Beyond the Margins might be of interest: http://beyondthemargins.com/2011/11/adopt-the-15th-savethebookstoreday/

  30. Your downtown sounds magical! While I live in a pretty big city, there are neighborhoods with little pockets of community life that I know I will miss if these storekeepers can’t keep their business. For their sake, I will join you on your quest to Occupy Downtown – what a great idea!

    I will also spread the word on Twitter.

  31. Sandy Arnold says:

    I’ve forwarded this lovely article to my friend who works at Titcomb’s Bookstore in Sandwich MA. You are so very lucky to have a real downtown with wonderful shops. Some of us aren’t so fortunate. Too bad, but maybe I’ll head over to Peterborough after Thanksgiving.

  32. Wonderful post….I also agree with Cathy….we have never met but somehow I feel like I know you through your blog and your books. Your book makes me feel like your a friend sitting at my table and it helps me to not feel so alone during the transition phases of my life. They say we must stick with uplifiting people and I am blessed to have found this blog and all the responses from readers. we all really do need to get back to the basics of how can I help you today versus keyboards? even our libraries have computers. I get so upset…I loved seeing the librarian and saying hello while taking out my books…now its a swipe of a card. grocery stores have self check out lines…I want to say Hi and thank you to the worker. I know I have to get with the “modern” times but sometimes it sure is nice to meet someone who loves the good old fashion ways as well. Im posting this onto my twitter account right now…..

  33. Thanks for sharing your insight, Katrina. I will pass this on to family and friends and plan to shop locally this holiday season!

  34. I will pass this along and plan to keep my money in the hands of local merchants…!

  35. Melissa Berry says:

    I love your twist on Occupy Downtown! We are small business owners in a big city suburb. There is a small “downtown” here (a few blocks) of mostly independently owned stores. Since starting our restaurant a year and a half ago, I have become much more sensitive to my own buying habits and try to buy local whenever I can. I want to share your post to encourage others to consider supporting local businesses before they are gone . . .

  36. Katrina – Sharing the same downtown, it was a nice reminder. I love the sentiment and will do downtown shopping.

  37. I love this idea! Thanks for the post. I posted it to facebook. 🙂

  38. I live in a small town that, like yours, fortunately has a downtown. It’s wonderful for parades, 5K races, art walks, candlelight nights, and craft fairs. I am lucky to have settled here (Moorestown, NJ) and to have raised our children in an environment where they feel a part of their community. We love our lunches at “The Cubby Hole,” and there are cool clothes to be found at “La Di Dah.” Even with nearby malls, I still try to do business in our town. I am definitely forwarding the link to this post to my fellow Moorestown-enthusiasts. Blessings to you, your family, and your town this holiday.

  39. I, too, live in a small town with a beautiful downtown that I very rarely visit. I just drive through it on my way to one of the bigger, one-stop chain stores.

    I will accept the challenge to at least see what my downtown merchants have to offer. What better time than this holiday season?

    Merry Christmas to you and your family, Katrina, and thank you.

  40. I’m posting on facebook now! And I’m thrilled that we now have a ‘downtown’ in our tiny mountain town in CO. When we were checking out the shops, after the homecoming parade last month, I thought to myself, “This is where I’m doing my holiday shopping!”
    I plan to spend the afternoon down there, in a few weeks, picking out items for the far away people we buy for. Not only do they have a “CO flair”, but they’ll be supporting our retail neighbors at the same time!
    Great post, Katrina!


  41. SO funny that you wrote this. was just meandering (which i don’t get to do often. . .usually 3 toddlers in tow,) through the beautiful streets of MY OWN small town, stillwater, mn. a lovely, old, lumber town, tucked in to the bluffs of the st. croix river valley. feeling SO blessed to be able to ‘occupy’ such a place and wanting to venture out more to soak all of its sweetness up every chance i get.

  42. Robin Evensen says:

    I just re-posted on my Facebook page. I am so fortunate to have a lovely little downtown to support in Exeter, New Hampshire. Thank you for the reminder (so beautifully expressed, as always)!

  43. Jen from Montpelier, VT says:

    I can’t tell you how nostalgic I felt seeing the photo of the Toadstool. My aunt and uncle lived for years in Peterborough and I have fond memories of visits to their house and to that bookstore! I feel the same way about downtowns, not a day goes by since moving to Montpelier that I am not grateful for my lively, human-scale town. I will vow to do the same this holiday season. Also, a book suggestion: Yannick Murphy’s The Call.

  44. Haruko Shino says:

    As I have done with some of your other posts, I will share this on my Facebook. And, instead of trying to do my Christmas shopping before I leave on my three week trip home to Japan, I will see what I find in the smaller shops there.

  45. Beautiful idea! As I was reading, I thought, “I am going to e-mail her and ask if I can post this on Facebook.” Thank you Katrina!

  46. Ann Willis says:

    Your message rang true with me, Katrina. In the 80’s and early 90’s I occupied downtown Milford. At that time there were a variety of stores and friendly faces welcoming you to Christmas shop with them. I could push a stroller from store to store, and catch up with all the local retailers. Then, gradually, these stores closed, replaced by a number of antiques stores. Now I’m beginning to see a new variety of stores come to the Oval. I encourage all to support these fledging businesses and let them know how important they are to our community!

  47. Celestial Elf says:

    Great Post,
    thought you might like my Occupy themed version of A Christmas Carol

  48. I think Occupy Downtown is a wonderful idea! Ours is a little run-down in spots, but we do have a few lovely little shops and cafes. You’ve inspired me.

    Can you ask Patchett to move to my town? We lost our bookstore this summer, and I am bereft.

  49. Grace Lenz says:

    What a great idea. I often overlook what is right in front of me!

  50. Susan Brown says:

    I too live in a small town that still has locally owned businesses, not as many as it used to have. Today on my own facebook page I encouraged my friends to patronize small businesses, and buy their latte at the local coffee stand, eat their dinner at the local “mom and pop” diner, buy a bottle of wine at the tiny wine shop on the corner, and get their hair styled by a local independent stylist. Small business keeps America going and keeps people working.

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