by Indigo Zgud
Did you brave the retail mayhem also known as Black Friday? If you’re like a growing number of holiday shoppers, you may have opted to skip the bone-chilling barometric meter, scarce parking, endless lines and unpredictable crowds that are practically synonymous with the post-Thanksgiving retail rat race. Or, perhaps you’re boycotting the hustle and bustle altogether by doing all of your gift shopping online.
But is there a downside to going totally digital for your seasonal gift shopping? Is something lost when one opts out of the annual craziness that defines December shopping, or is it all the same in the end? According to local businesses, it depends on what you’re looking for.
Specialty market The Saucy Cook is fast-becoming a premier destination for those with culinary enthusiasts on their gift list. The storefront boasts extensive selection premium gourmet food items, spices, cheeses, sauces, pastas, oils, seasonings, snacks and more. This extensive arsenal of wares provides shoppers with a hands-on sensory experience that is impossible to recreate online or through a catalog. But with logistics being what they are, making a trip to the store just isn’t feasible for some.
“You can just reach so many more people online… It just opens the door to a lot more people,” owner Martin Wells said. “We’ve got this great radio spot that goes out all across the state but if you live out in the Panhandle or something, you’re probably not going to come here. You might come into Lincoln and maybe you’ll remember, but our online store is a way to let those people know that you don’t have to leave home to purchase our products. If you live in Grand Island and you see something that you like, you can order it online.”
But does increased reach always mean increased sales for a retailer? Not always. In fact, Ten Thousand Villages representative Lisa Lux explained that, for their location, online sales’ impact is fairly minimal. “A lot of the online shopping that is happening for Ten Thousand Villages is people who don’t have a location near them, or in their city,” Lux said, “…but especially at this location, being in the Haymarket, we do get a lot of traveling people as well. So to a certain extent we do discuss online options, but we ship items for people all the time. It’s not like people say 'Oh, well I’ll just get it online.' They want to come into the store.”
“I think people enjoy the store experience, being able to see things and touch things,” Lux said, adding that Ten Thousand Villages’ longstanding local presence is an attractive feature for many visitors. A 30-year history in the Lincoln community and over 10 years in the Historic Haymarket has allowed the store to become a well-known fixture for area gift shoppers— not just during the holiday season, but year-round, as well.
Buying Local “Local support has been helpful… We haven’t necessarily seen a decline in business that we could attribute to [online shopping] specifically… It seems that people are buying less in general, so it’s hard to know what to attribute slower sales to. But with that being said, we’ve also fared better than many retailers due to increased awareness and support of local and fair trade business practices.” The organization is run by a volunteer board of directors. Locally generated profits directly benefit the community through taxes, and the retail proceeds are used to promote the growth of its fair trade network.
This “buy local” movement and mentality have also benefitted The Saucy Cook, and their locally-procured inventory is a feature that is appreciated by both its online and its in-person customers. “It’s important to us to get a lot of Nebraska food in,” Wells said, gesturing toward a basket of locally made, fresh dried pastas crafted by local chef Jill Rodger. Rodger’s succulent strands of Pumpkin Sage Nutmeg and Red Pepper, Dill and Sweet Potato-flavored pasta have earned a significant local following, and Wells believes that supporting local food artisans is integral to supporting local commerce. Other homegrown offerings include a variety of habanero jams produced by Chili Dawgs Foods of Fire in Blair, Nebraska, and beef jerky marinades from Lincoln’s own The Smoking Gun Jerky.
Why Leave Home? If you can support local commerce without leaving home, then what’s the benefit of braving long checkout lines, traffic jams and teeth-chatteringly cold temperatures? According to Wells, getting up close and personal with his storefront has a number of perks that are completely absent from the typical online shopping experience.
“Not all of the products we carry are online,” he said. “We don’t have our cheese online because the shipping cost would be so prohibitive. Cheese has to be refrigerated. You can’t just cut a block of cheddar and away you go. You have to pack it ice and ship it overnight. We may do it at some point, but right now, we’re just not there yet.”
The store’s year-round cooking classes are another in-person only offering. The courses are available as gifts for yourself or someone else, and are poised to resume in January after the seasonal hustle and bustle subsides. “Our webpage has a ‘Classes and Events’ section, and we’ll be posting a list so that people know what’s coming.”
The importance of customer interaction was echoed by Lux, who said that Ten Thousand Villages customers enjoy the face-to-face shopping experience that is unique to an in-person visit. “I think people appreciate being able to actually see something, try it on, talk to somebody about the product. And there’s a certain amount of accountability there, too, that we can actually talk to you about the people who are making the products.”
And she does have a point. Whether you’re browsing Ten Thousand Villages’ mind-bogglingly vast jewelry selection or perusing its collection of hand-carved sculptures, every item in sight has a story that is waiting to be told. “These are all carved from one piece of stone,” Lux explained, selecting a glossy, grapefruit-sized ‘Unity Sculpture’ from a nearby display table. “They are traditional gifts in Kenya. Each comes with a story as well, and they are a very popular gift selection here.”
Lincoln locals with incomplete holiday shopping lists may want to take a closer look at local offerings. Although it might be tempting to shop in the safe, cozy blue glow of your computer screen, an unexpectedly rich, varied and rewarding experience awaits those who dare to gift shop the old-fashioned way.