Monday, November 12, 2012

Small Business Saturday


After a stretch of unseasonably warm weather, cold weather returned to Shreveport today.  The cold snap sent residents all over the area into their standard cold weather routine of cranking up the heated seats in their cars and digging out their warmest camouflage jackets.  Concurrent with the cold weather is the sudden realization that November’s biggest holiday is just a week and some days from now.  That’s right, Black Friday is only eleven days away!

(What, did you think Thanksgiving was November’s biggest holiday?  Don’t be silly.)

Yes, nothing says America quite like trampling fellow shoppers to get that 42-inch TV that your child’s nursery desperately needs.


(Zombie apocalypse or Best Buy before the doors open)

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not telling you not to go shopping on Black Friday.  There are some great deals to be had, and if you find one on something you need, well, then, it would be fiscally irresponsible not to get it.  However, I do ask that you set aside some money for Small Business Saturday:


(Note:  The above video is for the 2011 iteration.  In 2012 the day is November 24th, not the 26th.  Just remember the day after Black Friday.)

If I seem passionate about this, it’s because I am.  At an early age, I had the chance to witness a local institution do battle with a large chain.  The people that lived next door were good friends of the family, and during summer vacations I’d often spend more nights a week at their place than at my own house.  They owned a builder’s supply/home improvement store in Bossier that had a long history in town and a strong reputation.  At the time, the only similar store in town was that orange one; it was completely across town and not worth the trip for most people, especially those on the Bossier side of the River.  The Shreveport-Bossier market was comfortably in balance with these two stores.  Then that blue one opened a location in Bossier, and that was the ball game for my neighbors’ shop.  Even today, I still won’t go to Lowe’s, although I do a fair amount of business at Home Depot and readily admit that there isn’t much difference between the two.

My neighbors landed on their feet and it didn’t cause them too much of a problem, but I learned something from it and have tried to remember that as best I could.

One problem with shopping locally in Shreveport is that it can be difficult to find good local places that have what you need.  Further, since this area is still a largely underdeveloped market for chains, new stores may seem local at first, only to later reveal themselves as faceless corporate behemoths.  So, need some help figuring out where to go?  Not sure if it’s a local place?  Well then, good thing you came to me.  I have a list of Hipster Out of Water approved local businesses in all the categories you’d need:

Clothing:

*Zoe’s Closet:  As of today their website was down (a malfunctioning or nonexistent website is a good sign of a sure-fire local business) but they’ve got two locations, one in South Shreveport on Youree Drive and one in Bossier City on Texas Street.  The one in Bossier has men’s clothing, according to their window displays, but I’ve never been there.
*The Spotted Zebra:  Only women’s clothing, but nonetheless a local store with a couple locations, one in Bossier and another in Shreveport.
*Pope’s Clothiers:  Pope’s has been serving Shreveport-Bossier’s luxury clothing needs for over 50 years, and while they are expensive, they are local and not too much more expensive than Dillard’s.
*Vertigo Clothing:  While not exactly local, this women’s boutique at the Shoppes at Bellemeade is Louisiana based with only a couple locations, so I’m making an executive decision and including it.

Electronics:

*Wright’s Sound Gallery:  A one-stop shop for all home theater and car audio needs.  Probably pricey, but if you’re in the market for this stuff, you know that already.
*The Audio Edge:  They may focus more on installation than on retailing, but worth checking out.

Flowers:

*Lisa’s Flowers:  Getting someone flowers this holiday season?  Go see Lisa on Benton Road.  And not just because she’s the same neighbor from the above anecdote, but because she has great products, prices, and customer service.

Food:

This is the one that baffles me.  While Shreveport-Bossier might face a shortage of local clothing and electronics stores, there is no lack for good, local food.  And yet, a new chain restaurant seems to open every day to fanfare and long lines.  Ever heard anything more pointless than an argument of Chili’s vs. Applebee’s, or Joe’s Crab Shack vs. Red Lobster?  When you’re eating bland food from unimaginative menus, surrounded by generic d├ęcor, and served by waitresses with way too many pieces of flair, does it really matter where you’re eating?


(I’ll eat at Applebee’s if and only if Ms. Aniston is my waitress)

Shreveport is full of good local food.  Here are some of my favorites:

*Cascio’s Market Bistro:  located on Shed Road just west of Airline.  Good food, cheap, and with decent vegetarian options.
*Athen’s Lebanese Grill:  If you have never experienced the taste nirvana that is Lebanese/Palestinian food, get here, pronto.
*Greek Corner:  See above, just in Bossier City.
*Pho Bowl:  While some spend Friday shopping, others will spend it drinking.  If that’s the case, and you wake up with that familiar splitting headache, light sensitivity, and overall terrible feeling, you have to have some pho.  This Vietnamese noodle soup will send that hangover packing or I’ll give you a full refund of this post.
*Wine Country Bistro & Bottle Shop:  Have guests coming in and want to impress them?  Tired of turkey?  Want to get some great wine to give as a gift?  Wine Country is your place.

Then, in the bakery subcategory but in a class all its own:  Eat Dessert First Bakery.  This holiday season, you and I both know you’ll have need for some baked goods.  Bread for a big dinner party?  Challah for Hanukah?  A cake?  Cookies for Santa?  I could go on, but the fact is that no month calls for baked goods quite like December, and Chef Dan at Eat Dessert First brings you offerings that you won’t find anywhere else in Shreveport-Bossier.  I’ve been eating his food for years and have the waistline fluctuations to prove it.

Finally, bike shops.  I don’t know the exact number of bicycles that will find their way under trees this Christmas, but I know it will be a lot.  And when it comes to where to buy those bikes, you’ve got an equally large number of options.  Pardon the gravity of this statement, but you will regret it if you buy your bike from Target, Wal-mart, Academy, Dick’s, etc.  Would you buy a car from me, knowing that I don’t drive?  Would you take your car to a motorcycle shop for repairs?  Of course you wouldn’t.  No one would.  Yet, to too many people it makes perfect sense to buy their kid’s bike from people who do not ride bikes, who do not work on bikes, and who probably couldn’t even change a flat, much less maintain and assemble a bike.  Bicycles are great fun and very safe when properly ridden and cared for, but can be downright dangerous.  I learned my lesson about improper maintenance the hard way, and was lucky to escape with two broken fingers.  Buy your bike from a real bike shop, where they will assemble it for you, and where you can bring it back for regular maintenance.  We are lucky to have four good, knowledgeable bike shops in town.  I don’t care which one you go to, just go to one of them, please.


***

Throughout the election season, I heard people all over the area complaining that the government was killing small businesses, but these same people couldn’t tell you the last time they patronized a local shop.  Paying lip service to local shopping is one thing, but when it comes time to actually do it, it gets easy to find an excuse.  Sure, in our 21st century marketplace, it’s next to impossible to live your life without doing a fair amount of business at places like Target, Wal-Mart, and Home Depot, but there are still ample opportunities to shop locally (well, there are right now, but if no one shops there then they won’t last forever).

The fact is, only you have the ultimate decision on where to spend your money, and you have many different considerations to prioritize when making the decision.  However, I’d urge you to reevaluate these considerations, and whenever possible make the decision to buy locally.  You’ll be happy you did.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Welcome Back



Guess who spent last weekend in Chicago?

Yes, it was I.  Chicago and I were reunited for 72 glorious hours and spent the weekend like long lost lovers.  We frolicked in the sand:



We ate delicious food:

(Hot pot, a traditional Chinese dish similar to fondue, usually eaten in winter.  It's amazing.)

And we saw the night lights:



Yeah, it was a great weekend.  But like all good things it had to come to an end.  And much like a lovers’ reunion leaves you with a burning infection from that guy she left you for, when I returned to Shreveport I was hit with the realization that Shreveport, despite its strides in the right direction, still has a ways to go.  Unfortunately, I can’t get rid of this feeling with antibiotics.

Still, though, the trip was a good idea.  As with past lovers, as time passes, the mind tends to gloss over the negatives and only remember the good times.  I’d forgotten the faint smell of urine that permeates the trains, the way cab drivers seem to be trying to give you a heart attack in the backseat, and the way that bars think it’s reasonable to charge four dollars for a can of PBR.  Most of all, though, I’d forgotten that Chicago is still very much a city of cars, even with all the recent bike lane development, as evidenced by this sign at a crosswalk:



This is exactly the kind of victim blaming that gives drivers their sense of entitlement.  It’s no different from posting this sign in women's restrooms:



If I tried to count every vehicle I watched make an illegal turn, run a light, or blast through a crosswalk, I would have run out of fingers and toes to count on in a matter of minutes.  Okay, is it possible that some of those 3000 pedestrians were at fault when they were hit?  Yes, of course.  I’ll even go so far as to say it’s as many as half.  But here’s the thing:  it doesn’t take a license to walk on the sidewalk.  There’s no skill demonstration or written test required to leave your apartment and stroll down the street to the coffee shop.  Drivers, however, have to be licensed; they must prove that they are capable and knowledgeable enough to operate a motor vehicle.  And part of that ability includes the ability to not run over people.


Back in town and batteries recharged from the vacation, I’m ready to get back to the blog.  I’ve been neglecting it a bit.  Thing is, this is really hard work.  I mean, it’s not hard work compared to anything resembling actual work, but still.  Anyway, if I knew that people liked reading my writing it would give me some motivation.  So if you like what you read, or if you have a topic you’d like to read about, comment or shoot me a message.

Finally, I’m going to bring back something I did a while ago, and that’s to review a local place of business based on its hipster appeal, or street cred.  If you remember, hipster cred is rated on a scale of one to five (1-5) PBR cans.

This week, the review goes to Rhino Coffee, a newish indie coffee shop in Shreveport, at 721 Southfield Road.  When I first heard about this place, I wasn’t sure what to think.  I’m on the record against indie coffee shops.  They almost always serve your brew with a tall order of angst, you get lousy service, and the coffee usually takes way too long to serve because they use some sort of cutting-edge, experimental brewing technique.

If that is the rule, then Rhino is the exception.  This is truly a great coffee shop.  The coffee is good.  There’s plenty of seating, including a great patio.  The free water is great after a long bike ride.  There’s even a breakfast and lunch menu; I haven’t eaten here yet, but the menu seems good and has several vegetarian options.  Finally, and best of all, there are good bike racks out front—no more locking to signposts or stair railings.  In fact, I'm writing this blog post from this very place.  Ladies and gentlemen, it’s a Hipster out of Water first, a 5 PBR review!