No Black Friday

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l Iike to re-visit this post every year on this day:


I grew up in a suburb of Chicago with a central square flanked by shoulder-to-shoulder shops in brick and tudor. A fountain on one end, a Parthenon shaped department store on the other, a park with grass and benches and a flagpole in-between. My goldfish met its maker in that fountain because I thought it a better life than the one he’d been living in a small bowl on my windowsill. I met my best friend at that fountain every day before school and ate donuts from the local bakery sitting on the side of it. I had a kiss or two in the dark at that fountain. I climbed that flagpole on a dare. I believed in the spirit of Christmas standing in that park, looking into the illumination of the crèche each December. We called it Uptown and it was an iconic yet controlled kingdom to us, the Downtown of Chicago being so vast and distant. My house was close to Uptown, and after school every day, I walked my dog around its streets, memorizing every alleyway, every store window, smiling at the familiar faces of the shopkeepers who knew my family, our names, our stories.

In those days, many families had charge accounts at the stores. So sometimes, I’d get permission to go on little shopping sprees, charging stickers and pens at the stationary store, ribbons at the dimestore, Bonnie Bell Lipsmackers at the drugstore, an album at the record store, a bike bell at the sports store, seeds at the hardware store for my vegetable garden. We had nicknames for these stores like old friends. They were our meeting places. Our stomping ground. Our stage. When my father died, the local grocery store gave us a cart full of groceries for free once they heard the news. These shops were the bones of our goings on as a community. Not because they represented greed or even commerce to us. They were the places where our mothers ran into each other and gossiped and wondered and pontificated. They were the places where we flirted with boys, dreamed up birthday parties, found the right words for a grieving aunt, played truth or dare over an ice cream sundae. A lot of these shops are gone now. Now the shoe store is a Williams Sonoma. The corner store is a Talbots. The hardware store is a True Value but it’s at least still there, even with a Home Depot lurking in the not-so-distance. I’m proud of the way my hometown values its local shops and supports them, even with so much bright-light-big-city so close.

Now I live in another small town, this one rural and full of economic hardship. I watch as the shop owners struggle to make ends meet and keep their doors open. I know most of them the way I knew my hometown shop owners. I watched as they took their vision and made it a reality. I see their pride because in our small mountain community, these shops hold deep importance. There is no option of city. People drive a long way to stock up on feed for their animals, paint for their barns, winter socks for their kids. Not long ago I was proud to say we didn’t have a Gap in the state of Montana. Or a Target, a Best Buy, a Home Depot, a Lowe’s, a Costco. That’s changed now. It’s here. Consumption Junction we call it. And it’s killing our local small businesses.

I see the store owners’ worry. All their money wrapped up in keeping their store running even if it’s barely paying the bills. I picture Central Ave. being one day like a ghost town of the old West, tumbleweed and all, the bars surviving because people will always drink away their woe. The churches surviving because people will always need to pray in public, knowing they’re not alone. But then I also picture a time when the box store will die. Our greed for unnecessary plastic items will fade if not devour us. We’ll stop filling up our shopping carts until they are brimming over when all we came for was…well, winter socks. And maybe things will return to the old ways. And people will live off the land. And buy only what they need and only when they can afford it. And barter for what they can’t afford. I picture a time when a person with sheep has profound power, shearing them and spinning their fleeces, and a person who knows how to work a forge is the reason why transportation is possible, horses needing shoes and meaning business—not just decoration or a vehicle of recreation. And the Farmer’s Market will be more than a sunny place to listen to a singer/songwriter and buy a hula hoop along with your Swiss chard.

There is a road called Farm-to-Market here in Montana where I live. It’s a pretty Sunday drive. When I take that road, I think about how it once was a bloodline for this community. Blood sport. Many broken hearts along its fences. Countless dashed dreams and false hopes. The kind of road where you sort out what you’re going to say to your wife when you come back with a full cart, someone else’s tomato crop being what it was. It’s not that I defy modern technology or progress or the possibilities of button pushing. It’s that I don’t trust us to know what to do with what we’ve created. I trust humility more than greed. And as much as I love that I get welcomed into Walmart and love that I can get winter socks for my kids and Swiss chard both and still get back in time to pick them up from school, as much as I know that those are local people working those jobs, in honesty and humility with dreams of their own, sorting out their own stories to tell their spouses…I want us to stop.

I want us to go to the local hardware store and eat a bag of popcorn while we discuss paint color and drill bits and talk weather while we do it. And what about that school bond and what about that new city councilman? I want us to drop our spare change into the Mason jar to help with the Nelson girl who has Leukemia. I want us to go slowly again. I want us to wonder about each other. I want us to ask, “How’s business?” and hear that it picked up this October, which is usually a slow time—better than last year. To nod and smile at that good news and feel like we’re going to be okay. We won’t lose our hats along with our dreams.

This holiday season, I want us to stop. Not take our turkey hangovers to the early morning, standing at a Target ready to run in like monkeys on a zoo break. I want us to continue the gratitude of the day before. I want us to sleep in and maybe take a walk into town later to see what the local shops have for sale. I want us to have those conversations. I want us to go Uptown instead of Downtown and especially I want us to steer clear of Consumption Junction. Even if it costs a bit more. Even if it is a little less shiny. Even if it means we buy less, or go to three stores to find that one thing our kid asked for. I want us to stroll down Central Avenue. And say hi to each other. I want us to be thankful for our town squares and our backyard businesses and see ourselves in the reflection of their holiday windows.

25 Comments

Filed under Little Hymns to Montana, My Posts

25 Responses to No Black Friday

  1. Marisa

    Wow, so many memories and so right a story. Thanks for all this and thanks for the wake up call I sometimes need.
    Happy Thanksgiving to you all.I’ll be one of those going to my local stores that will say hello again and will look and find those hidden treasures in a smile or in a chitchat.

  2. cindy pitre

    Nice, but can we really go back? Maybe not go back but just move forward a little differently than we are now. I think we are at a cross-road and it will be interesting to see how humanity does.

    • lauramunson

      I don’t think we can ever go back. But I think forward might look familiar to our great-grandmothers one day… yrs. Laura

  3. Joan Ridell

    Laura,
    What a beautiful sentiment and so true…as I sit here in the town you grew up in with my heart in the one you live in right now! I have forwarded this wonderful essay to my friends here on the North Shore and those in Montana. And let’s also realize that some of the best gifts don’t come from stores at all, but from something we make or a gift of time. I hope you have a Thanksgiving filled with family and peace and love.

    • lauramunson

      JOAN! So great to think of you today and so glad you read the blog. Take a twirl around Market Square for me and I’ll take one down Central for you. Happy Thanksgiving to you! ox Laura

  4. cindy pitre

    Funny you should say that, a collegue of mine was saying the same thing… with all the financial crisis going on… maybe we will be back to basics, with a more local ecomomy etc…

    Happy Thanksgiving to all you in the United States, I am from Canada and we do not celebrate at the same time…

    I do hear that some stores are trying to have their Black Friday, to do like the Americans, I will be be assisting…. I agree with you

    • lauramunson

      I’m 60 miles from the border so I consider myself almost Canadian! Thanks for dropping by, Cindy and for doing your part! yrs. Laura

  5. Sharon Rivera

    Laura, a sound piece of advice, eloquently said. That may be one of the few ways we can take charge of the turn in our country/lives. Growing up in a tiny community just northwest of yours, I long for those quiter, softer times.
    …remembering salmon at your kitchen table with a group of special ladies,
    realizing that we didn’t get that horseback ride in this summer. Wishing for you an extraordinary Thanksgiving. xoxoxox

  6. linda

    Beautiful, Laura. As always. I so love your voice. I’d love to hear you read this on NPR. xx

  7. susan bellini

    wasn’t uptown wonderful. We did know all the shop keepers and we all called them by their surname. Mr. so and so or Mrs. soand so. I miss it when I visit LF. It just ain’t the same. Happy Thanksgiving!!!

    • lauramunson

      We BOTH know exactly what that walk was like! So nice to hear from you, bella. Happy Thanksgiving from Montana. ox yer neighbor!

  8. Colleen

    Laura,
    I wrote to you in May after stumbling upon your blog. I picked up your book for my summer bag and devoured it in a day. I was having a rough time with life in general, but had a feeling something good was on the horizon. Well, by complete chance I was sitting in traffic on our Main Street and happened to look over to one of my favorite shoppes … I fantasized about how wonderful it would be to own such a place. I phoned my friend, a friend I knew had a connection with the owner and said: Is it for sale? Could it be? He got back to me in thirty seconds and said Yes, it is! I consider it fate that traffic was clogged up on our Main Street that day because today I have been the new owner for seven weeks now.
    My heart can relate so totally with your story about the fountain and little shoppes you grew up around because I live in that kind of place. Main Street is where my kids are walking with their friends and getting ice cream or looking at what this month’s Art Walk artists have to show … I am now a small Main Street store owner. I love what I do. I love talking with my clients, they are like family to me. I love hearing about the new baby in the family, and how they came to me for a sweet baby gift. I love sitting down at my table with an excited bride and groom to help them put together their invitation ensemble, or sitting with the mother of the bride as we put together her daughter’s suprise bridal shower … Or the sisters who want to throw their parents a party to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.
    I knew this venture was a risk, there is so much competition. Too much. But I have never been happier. I am there in my little shoppe every day.
    As the holidays approach, I hope that people will stop and think about where to shop. We little shoppe owners take pride in the products on our shelves. We choose each and every one for You – our clients, our friends, our family … And our little Main Street cannot thrive without you!
    Have a Happy Thanksgiving Laura!
    ~Colleen

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  11. Vicki Rowe

    I was reading a really interesting blog today about a family of 4 who is finding things a bit tight this christmas so they have decided that each child will get 4 presents only.
    1. Something they want
    2. Something they need
    3. Something to wear
    4. Something to read
    I love this idea to combat comsumerism and will definitely be shopping local for my 4 items per child.

  12. Jennifer

    Laura, this is so feelingly written, and the sentiment is both noble and descriptive of something that I believe is possible. More families than ever this year seem to be ‘Unplugging the Christmas Machine’, as per the title of that wonderful book from years ago. Family members have asked to not give or receive gifts this year, instead to send charitible donations. And I, for one, will not be in my usual place at Target at 6am pushing a shopping cart, looking for ‘specials’. Staying in bed feels more special, as does breakfast with my father, or a walk with my daughter. So…keep the faith. The economic downturn may help to be a savior of our consumer souls. Keep looking Uptown! Happy holidays – Jennifer

  13. Hi Laura,
    Great blog. I grew up on the south side and spent my quarter allowance at the dime store on Kedzie Avenue. I also went with my mom to buy the weekly meet at Reilly’s Meat Market and walked to the two blocks to the local grocery store for penny candy. We do the same thing here on Main Street in my small town in South Dakota.

    That having been said, I would kill for a Costco because the CEO takes a comparatively minor salary given what he could demand and the quality is there. I also support Walmart as little as possible due to the politics of their buying policies. My kids will say, “It’s time to go to the evil empire Mom.”

    I buy as much as I can online. It is an aberration that WalMart stocks the aisles with Christmas stuff in September. My birthday is the day after Thanksgiving this year and from the get go of our marriage, Christmas doesn’t get mentioned until after that.

    We wave in this town. We look each other in the eye and say hello and hold the door and talk about the weather. There is connection. It reminds me of my childhood.

    I was recently back in Chicago and loved it. But I don’t belong there any longer.

    This year rather than shop for yet another Nerf gun, we are giving our kids life experiences that we bought at a silent auction to support the local opera house and art center. It feels good. You are right. We need to stop.

    Blessings this Thanksgiving. Support Small Business Saturday on the 26th.

    Oh wait, you already do…. :)

  14. If we cannot turn back the clocks, we can adjust ourselves. Thank goodness more and more people are getting away from full-bent consumerism and learning to repurpose, reuse and go without.

  15. Robert Birkenes

    What a lovely article, Laura. I remember all those things, and am glad to have been a part of it. (Well, except for truth or dare over ice cream sundaes, I wasn’t there for that!)

    I assume you’ve read James Kunstler’s World Made by Hand. He also wrote several non-fiction books on the process that you described, basically how single-use zoning plus advent of cheap cars destroyed the small town and city by creating suburbs, strip malls, and long commutes.

    The question is: now what do we do? Most everyone seems to prefer the big box stores and chain cafes. And they didn’t notice that they starved the am-and-pa shops. So how to build up awareness and support for buying local… Probably one article at a time.

  16. Loved reminiscing with you about our simpler times. I think if we all shop locally as much as possible is one step toward reducing the Consumption Junctions. Well said, Laura and timely!

  17. Jan Myhre

    Hello Laura, I finally came in for a landing at my computer and opened up your blog. Memories of small town Montana came flooding back and the nostalgia practically took my breath away. I knew every person in every house in our tiny town. I knew all the shopkeepers and they knew me. (They kept me on the up and up.) I miss that closeness, those connections. I do have similar relationships with my new faith community, but it’s not quite the same as when I was a kid. (Still, they keep me on the up and up.) Maybe we can no longer go back to what was, but I’m convinced we can make “what will be” better than it is today. I know it’s all about community whether at work, school, on main street or in churches. Knowing each others’ names is a good beginning. As I shop in local businesses this year, I’ll start by introducing myself and letting the shopkeepers know my intentions. Can’t hurt, might help. Enjoy your December! Love ya.

  18. Katherine Stevenson

    Beautifully written Laura. Thank you. My sentiments exactly and precisely why I moved to and love living on a tiny island.
    There are some stores here and we do everything you mentioned when shopping in them. Time slows and I can breath easier.
    Like you mentioned, I too often think I was born in the wrong century.
    So glad to read someone else thinks like this.
    Love and hugs.

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