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From the Publisher: Retail Tales


Published November 23, 2022 at 10:00 a.m.

  • Illustration: Rob Donnelly

I'm not a casual shopper. I generally wait until it has to happen, then power through a long list, spending money like a drunken sailor. Last week it dawned on me that my bra — singular — predates the pandemic. About the same time, the cold northwest wind delivered another realization: I needed a hat.

And so I found myself at the top of Burlington's Church Street last Friday just as city workers were erecting the colossal Christmas tree that would light up seven days later. No Nutcracker numbers were being piped in over loudspeakers yet, but Marketplace retailers looked fully stocked for the holiday shopping season.

I wandered into Outdoor Gear Exchange and stood just inside the entryway, marveling at the inventory. The place was packed with everything I had totally forgotten I needed: Carhartt overalls, a new thermos, a headlamp, Darn Tough socks, cozy tops, snow pants, earmuffs. I was following the siren song of the camping section when I remembered what I came for.

A hat. Right. Where were they? Here, there and everywhere — a brilliant merchandising strategy. I found a great one from Turtle Fur and, using all the willpower I could muster, resisted the temptation to buy everything else in the store.

My success at OGE propelled me to Bertha Church — just to look, I told myself. Minutes later, I was in a dressing room, reluctantly trying on bras. An expert sales clerk brought different models and sizes to me until we found one — even two! — that fit. You don't get that kind of personal attention online.

Two for two, I was feeling good. Confident enough, in fact, to seek out an item the next day on Shelburne Road. When my partner and I took our tree down in mid-January, I noticed that about half the vintage lights had stopped working. Replacement bulbs were impossible to find, so with some dread I'd made a note to purchase a whole new string this year.

That's how I found myself at the Country Christmas Loft, clutching an empty box that once held our miniature light set. A live Santa Claus greeted customers just inside the door, but he ignored me. An astute store employee swooped in and asked if she could help.

I was never happier to see a sales clerk. She led me through the maze of little rooms packed with floor-to-ceiling tchotchkes to where all the lights are — a seizure waiting to happen. If I'd been alone, I wouldn't have made it past the second St. Nick — a "Jingle Bell Rock"-ing, animatronic one — in the middle of the store.

"This is the closest thing to what you have there," she said of the box I held, leading me to a small display of incandescent light products. She seemed aware that I had not made the transition to LED Christmas lights, of which there was a much larger selection of varying string lengths and bulb colors.

I took it all in, bought what she recommended and followed her back to the front of the store to cash out. The whole shopping experience took all of five minutes.

Until, walking back to my car with my purchases, I got to thinking: It might be nice to hang some white icicle lights outside this year. I saw some candles in there, too, that I liked. Surprising myself, I put the first batch of goods in the car, turned around and went back in for more.

The Gift Guide inside this week's Seven Days is full of resilient Vermont retailers. Sourced by our staff, the annual holiday shopping supplement offers creative, local recommendations for everyone we imagined to be on your list. For me, reading it had the same motivational effect as watching A Christmas Carol: I want to buy presents for everyone.

Need more reasons to patronize local merchants, who, after two pandemic holiday seasons, are dreaming of a "normal" one? They sell cool stuff made by Vermonters, employ your neighbors, and help finance community events, sports teams, charities and, of course, local media such as this newspaper with their advertising.

They show us things we didn't know existed, then let us touch, feel and try them on. If you value that experience, be sure to support it this year.