It’s hard to imagine but it’s almost a year and a half since I decided to live life in Calgary, a car-centric city if ever there was one, with no car. It seemed like a major decision at the time, and for a while I couldn’t help but remark on how things were different as a result of my decision, harder in some cases, surprisingly not harder in others.
I may have gone through a holier-than-thou phase when I felt myself to be morally superior to all drivers anywhere in the world, not unlike how many of my friends come off when they have managed to quit smoking. By and large, that has subsided and I don’t really even think about it much anymore.
I realized yesterday that there are subtle changes that I could not have imagined when I became a pedestrian and a cyclist and a rider of the C Train, and the most significant of these are the changes in my habits as a consumer.
There was a flurry of snazzy pimped-up sayings on my Facebook page around Christmas encouraging me and everyone else to shop locally and to support independent locally owned businesses. I don’t know if anyone really pays attention to those things, it seems to me we click “Like” on things we already believe anyway and then happily ignore the rest.
For my part, though, I have always tried to support local businesses.
It’s no secret that I’m a bit of a fixture at Caffe Beano – in part because I like the coffee and the people there, but also because it isn’t a national or international chain. I have known all the owners over the years and I am happy to support them with my patronage.
On any account, yesterday (which was a Saturday) I found I had a few extra dollars in my pocket and felt like engaging in a bit of retail therapy. Back when I was a driver, at such times I would get into my car and drive out to West Hills (or some such) and relieve the retail itch in big box stores, almost always with the result of spending far more than I had intended on things that I didn’t really need.
But yesterday, I did the same thing on foot, starting out at my favourite Calgary bookstore, Shelf Life Books. Recently, my brother, Tom, turned me onto the novels of Carlos Ruiz Zafón. I had read The Prisoner of Heaven and there at Shelf Life they had The Shadow of the Wind, and so now it’s mine.
When I bought it, they gave me my customary writer’s discount, and if you are a published writer and you tell them that at Shelf Life, you can get the writer’s discount as well. It only amounted to a few dollars, but it’s a nice touch and who doesn’t like saving money?
From Shelf Life I went to my favourite store on the planet, Reid’s Stationers. While I have had a fetish for fountain pens (and now mechanical pencils) almost since I could walk, I am now developing a serious ink problem. They have some Japanese stuff at Reid’s (pictured here) but it’s so expensive (even with my preferred customer discount) that I have been trying out several of them before I commit myself. I bought a plastic binder for $1.50, but I came away with a pen full of the precious Japanese ink.
There’s a clothing store I like a block west of Reid’s on 17th Avenue called Dick and Jane. Last time I was in they had a coat I liked, a Warrior Brand jacket from Great Britain with fabulous red tartan lining. I felt that I needed a little spring spruce up, something other than the drab black thing that I’ve been wearing for at least three years now. So in I went and out I came with a fabulous spring jacket. They even gave me a discount at Dick and Jane – “just for being who you are,” said the lady at the till – so it clearly doesn’t suck to be me.
I don’t begrudge the money I spend at the store of a local merchant. I somehow think it comes back to me. I paid less for all of these items than I would have, had I driven 5 miles in my car to a big box outlet mall. They all mean more to me, because of the process I went through in buying them.
Cars do nothing towards fostering community. Setting out on foot, supporting local merchants, interacting with one’s friends and neighbours is what community is all about. I encourage you to try it sometime, you just might like it.
Thanks for reading!
PS. I believe Divine is having their big annual sale next weekend and it’s time for a new pair of Chucks. (Please see my post from April 21 of last year.) Anyone want to join me in the afternoon of Saturday March 30 to go on a Chuck-hunting expedition? Leave a comment if you do and we’ll make it happen!