TODAY THE madness begins, and I'll be out there somewhere with the rest of the retail shoppers. But one place you won't see me is Arundel Mills. I won't be inside - or anywhere near - our new 1.6 million-square-foot monster mall. I'm not even going there for the cultural experience.
In my book, it's too big and too unnecessary - we didn't have enough places to shop around here already? - and too many trees had to die to make it possible. I'm not even tempted to visit the giant fishing tackle shop there -out of loyalty to all the other local shops, like Tochterman's on Eastern Avenue, that have served Baltimore anglers for generations.
So, I'll let the madding crowd have the "Arundel Mills experience." I'm going low for holiday shopping this year. I'm going Main Street local. I'll patronize businesses that are not part of chains, that are owned and operated by people with long and healthy roots in the community, businesses that must not die.
And I don't care if the parking is limited or if I pay a little extra for something. I don't care if I can get it cheaper at Wal-Mart. I don't care that visiting a small local shop might mean spending a few extra, precious minutes chatting with the owner. For the next couple of weeks, I'm taking a vow of small, not mall. I'm going shopping down the street, not on the Internet.
Believe me, it can be done. It's not for everybody, but I think it's a good thing to try. In fact, it can be downright adventurous.
Hardware for the men in my life? I'll admit to doing that Home Depot thing. I've never had a bad experience there, and, if I'm lucky, I get to hear couples arguing over wallpaper. The HD gift certificate looks like a good stocking stuffer.
But I'll pass this year. I'd much rather hit one of our last remaining, family-owned hardware stores - they still exist; you could look it up - before they're gone.
This will help as I customize my Baltimore Snow Panic Gift Packs. From one of these local hardware stores, I'll purchase snow shovels, ice scrapers and some other cold-weather gadgets. Then I'll get four-packs of toilet paper and six-packs of evaporated milk. I'll wrap them with brightly colored ribbon and give them to friends and neighbors who firmly believe we are headed for the Winter From Hell.
Clothes? You can find clothes at small shops, and you don't have to search that hard. I like The Bead in the Rotunda in North Baltimore (for gifts for women, not for myself, wise guy.) I realize that the Rotunda is a mall, and a technical violation of my small-not-mall vow. But the Rotunda is a small mall with nice shops and, last I checked, free gift wrapping.
Go to Fells Point; there are clothes shops there. Go to Towson and check out Ten-Car Pileup or Once Again. You could go into Set's Sports Shop and buy something nice in camo. Go local, go funky, go a little weird. Go to Ellicott City and shop on Main Street.
I could go on, so I will.
There are whole avenues with small businesses that would love to see us -Frederick Road in Catonsville, 36th Street in Hampden, Broadway and Thames in Fells Point, the Cross Street Market area.
Get out of the your car, feed the meter and take a walk. You'll be surprised what you might find. Despite all the disparaging things said of the west side (Howard Street, Lexington Market), there are thousands of people who shop there every day. You would do a friend a favor with a gift certificate that gets them into Lexington Market next year. Or Attman's Deli. Or DiPasquale's.
When was the last time you walked North Charles Street in midtown? Take a look inside the Woman's Industrial Exchange. You'll find something attractive and - all right, I'll use the word - quaint in the consignment shop. Music lovers in my family are getting CDs from An Die Musik this year. There are a bunch of cool shops on Baltimore's main street and good places to eat. (Have you tried Sascha's new place, darling?)
Here's an idea: Walk over to Cathedral Street and Our Daily Bread, drop off a small contribution - a No. 10 can of string beans - at the dining room for the poor, then step into the main branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library. You can find unusual items in the Pratt Place gift shop.
Even better: The Pratt's annual book sale is coming up next weekend, Dec. 1-3. They claim - and I believe them - that more than 40,000 books will be available, along with posters, sheet music, audio tapes, videotapes and record albums. (Anyone out there remember record albums?) You can get hardcover books for 50 cents. Or check out the Pratt's "Collectors' Corner." That's where you can get unusual, older and gift books at higher prices.
I could go on, but I won't.
Because you know what I'm talking about. As I rattled off my suggestions and ideas, you thought of small shops you visited in the past , but haven't seen in a while. See you on the street.