Before you go shopping for that special gift for someone you love or like or are obligated to lavish with pretend affection, ask yourself, first, whether it will be truly special and, second, where your money might do you the most good. You’ll no doubt give some to Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, and you may have a significant portion of your purchases delivered to your door in boxes marked Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Target and Walmart will also catch you coming and going more times than you’d like to admit.
But the chains don’t need you like you need you.
If you can shop in your neighborhood—whether it’s for groceries or liquor or flowers—do it. If there’s a jewelry shop or a camera store or tiny burger joint near your house, buy something there. Because here’s what happens when you stay in your neck of the woods: your house retains its value.
It works like this: open, busy shops attract people, and people deter crime. Buildings are less likely to become vandalized and are more likely to become fixed immediately if they do. Bustling commercial areas in small neighborhoods make those neighborhoods appealing to potential home buyers, especially those with families. Your house—just up the street from a coffee shop, book store, hip happening hairdresser, hardware store, restaurant, pub, and fabulous boutique—retains its value—not only monetarily but personally. Your quality of life is vastly improved by community. (And remember Snowmageddon? It's a lot less dismal when you can walk to a place that's open because the owners walked there, too.)
I’ve heard before from people—even those with a good deal of disposable income—that they don’t get as great a “value” from shopping locally; that is, the books cost a little more. But when I buy a book at the Red Canoe, I visit with my neighbors and friends, chat with the owners, taste a sample of the newest muffin, and get a cup of coffee that’s roasted so locally I can smell it from my house. I learn the latest neighborhood news (and scuttlebutt, which is a little more fun). I am treated like a person, and that makes me feel good. I give my money to a friendly college student with good taste in music and a knack for making a killer sandwich. That, my friends, is value, and it radiates for blocks. It’s what the credit card company means by “priceless.”
If you’re not lucky enough to have a strip of independent stores in your neighborhood, come to mine. All up and down Harford Road you can find things that are truly special, one-of-a-kind items that no one else owns.
Studio C Jewelry & Gifts
4337 B Harford Road
10-5 T-Sat., 10-3 Sun
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Constance Scott makes gorgeous beaded and tin jewelry and accessories, and she carries some of the coolest stuff around: letter hooks; pearl pens; bottle stoppers with golf balls and antique door knobs; funky locally-created clothing (made by converting two items into a single unique top or skirt!); magnets; hats; soaps; a whole line of gorgeous serving items from Swirl; and so much more. How can you resist a $4 package of the strongest magnets in the world or fancy bookmarks that fit in your daughter's stocking? You can’t leave without finding something special for someone special.
The Red Canoe
4337 Harford Road
7-5 T-Sat., 9-3 Sun.
Betty White may have put the fun back into talking about muffins, but Peter Selhorst put the fun back into eating them. They are the best muffins anywhere. If you want a sweet muffin, pick the cranberry chocolate chip or everyone’s favorite coffee cake muffin. Maybe you want a hot, crusty muffin, with spinach and cheese, gently heated and slathered with butter. (Dare I say "moist"?)
But Red Canoe is more than the sum of some of its muffins. It’s coffee and soups and sandwiches (try the Zacker—a grilled force of panini to be reckoned with). And, of course, it's books—for kids and grownups, with a huge selection of local authors' books. (Rumor has it that the Red Canoe carries a certain someone’s calendars, too.) Nicole and Peter support authors and artists as book-signing-party hosts, sellers, and wall-art displayers.
4301 Harford Road
For the universe’s best crab cakes, with all jumbo lump and rarely a speck of filler, it’s Koco’s. Joanna, the owner, once told me she used a loaf of bread per twenty pounds of crab. If you find a piece of it, save it; it’s a little like finding a pearl in an oyster. Koco’s is on my speed dial.
The Chop Shop
4329 Harford Road
You need cool hair? Baby, she’s got cool hair. Visit Our Coiffed Lady of the Locks, Lisa Hawks, for hip happenin’ hairdos and trusty tresses that will make you the belle of any holiday ball. And you get some spicy shop talk, too.
4321 Harford Road
Hey, just because it’s Christmas doesn’t mean you don’t need a key made or a window rescreened. Beth knows what she’s doing, and she can show you, too.
The Chameleon Café
4341 Harford Road
5-9 T-Thurs, 5-10 Fri.-Sat.
Steak and lamb and scallops and vegetarian dishes and charcuterie—nothing in this restaurant is short of delightful. The space is sweet, and the food is as local and in season as it can possibly be. Brenda and Jeff Smith have created a heavenly foodie haven that’s been applauded by all the local magazines and newspapers. There’s even a prix fixe menu for those of us whose income is broken!
4516 Harford Road
Lou’s has a good selection of craft beers (and the usual crap beers, for those who like that sort of thing), as well as big jugs of Manischewitz. It’s also great for Lotto, cigarettes, and shorties.
Up the Road
Further north up Harford Road, you can find other hunks of awesomesauce:
· Zeke's Coffee (4607 Harford Road) has those fabulous, roasted-right-here (in the alley between the Chameleon and Safeway) beans and lots of coffee-related merch;
· Lakein's Jewelers (5400 Harford Road) for watch repairs and sterling chains and an ear piercing (really? you'd let a teenager from Claire's pierce your kid's ears?);
· Clementine (5402 Harford Road) for the yummy sandwiches and meals and fancy cocktails (best: chicken salad with havarti and lemon jam);
· Hamilton Vacuum (5421 Harford Road—buy it here once or repair the ones you didn't buy here each year;
· Hamilton Arts Collective (5440 Harford Road), because art is essential, not optional;
· Big Bad Wolf's House of Barbecue (5713 Harford Road) for your big bad appetite for barbecue;
· Shockers Smoke Shop (7110 Harford Road), for all your bong needs;
· Fenwick Bakery (7219 Harford Road) for donuts, cake, and pie (my husband buys a dozen cinnamon bismarcks here every week!);
· a strip of antique shops;
· Mueller’s Delicatessen (7207 Harford Road), for German goodies;
· Dead Freddies (7209 Harford Road) to watch the game while eating their shrimp salad on pretzel bread—best I've ever had;
· Home Discount Tile Center (7350 Harford Road) (a little like a car dealership, but more colorful).
Get your Christmas tree at the fabulous Walther Gardens, 4715 Walther Avenue (and, in the summer, Baltimore's Best Snowball, with ice cream on the bottom, thick chocolate syrup in the middle, and marshmallow on top; shop in the greenhouse, too, for herbs, annuals, and veggie plants). Those people are so nice, and their dog is good.
Move over to Old Harford Road, and find cool stick candies, wreaths, and greens at Poor Boys. Then get your Christmas facial and brow pluck from the beautiful and divine Gina at Giuseppe's (also in my speed dial—2616 Taylor, 410-665-4490). Finally, because you're gonna need it after all that shopping, ask for some Resurrection at the Liquor Pump (8535 Old Harford Road, 410-668-1820), and tell owner Harry Mehta that Leslie the Beer Goddess sent you. It's one of the nicest liquor stores ever, with a huge variety of fancy craft beer. The place holds tastings, too, so look for them on Facebook.
You don't have to be rich to shop locally, but if you shop locally, you will be rich. It's in the cards. If you don't trust me, go have them read at this place at the corner of Overland and Harford, between your rockin' crab cake and your bitchin' hairdo.