Amblin' Alameda: Shopping

Amblin' Alameda: Shopping

Morton Chalfy

It's hardly any wonder that at the end of the holiday season I find myself thinking about shopping. Not thinking about going shopping but about shopping's place in our cultural and social life. When the media refer to shopping and shoppers it always seems to be in a negative way: “Shoppers arrive in hordes!” (The only other usual use of the word hordes that I'm aware of is in reference to Genghis Khan and his warriors riding out of the steppes of Asia to rape and pillage and murder. Shoppers don't deserve to be linked with that.)

Shoppers are “frenzied” and “run amok” when trying to get the last big thing in stores that do everything they can to encourage outre behavior by opening at midnight, advertising loss leaders (“only six available, get there early”) and other such gimmicks to boost sales. Some people respond to these ads and give the media their longed-for photo ops of people behaving weirdly.

But shopping is arguably the most important activity in our economy. After all, 70 percent of the economy is retail sales. Retail sales require shoppers. When we hunted and gathered for our food and material directly, those activities were held in respect. Now that money has come between us and direct involvement in obtaining our food and clothing, respect is given to the wage earner. But we can't eat or wear money. Someone has to go shopping for food, for clothing and for everything else we want.

I grew up in a time when “homemaker” was an honored place in life. The homemaker kept a clean house with clean clothes and bedding and cozy rooms. The homemaker also cooked and preserved and darned and ironed and washed and waxed. And shopped. Shopping was a learned activity and some did it better than others. Some made wonderful homes on limited budgets and others did not. Shopping tactics and the worth of goods were taught to daughters by their mothers, and those of us who lived in successful shopping families reaped the benefits of that culture in the form of delicious meals and welcoming, supportive homes.

We all shop. Some still do it better than others. Some do it professionally, some on the run, some haphazardly, some knowledgeably and some in the deepest throes of ignorance. Whole industries are based on taking advantage of the ignorant shopper because there lies the largest profit.

I shopped in Alameda for all my presents this year, and a wonderful experience it was. Walking Park and Webster streets, checking out the idiosyncratic assortments of the very individualistic shops and finding treasures I hadn't expected to come across. I like to support the local merchants and it doesn't seem that I pay a premium to do so.

Home economics has been removed from the school curriculum and it's a real shame. The lessons learned about shopping, food preparation and preservation, and homemaking in general are among the most important skills a person (any gender) can acquire.