Shopping like we ought to
Early in each new year, I spend a week examining the Christmas season just ended for holiday shopping trends. It's a bit of research I assign myself, not for any high scientific purpose, but because the first week in January is pretty slow news-wise, so why not?
In the course of my studies, I found it heartening to learn last week that Vineyard men, notoriously delinquent shoppers, had raged through the retailers on the weekend before Christmas, their bloodshot, wind-tortured eyes pleading for advice and especially for wrapping help from shopkeepers. Wearing their coveralls, some hammers still dangling from nail aprons, these hardies, helplessly love-struck but resisting with all their might, trudged into the shopping spirit just as the gong was about to sound. They were going to make their gals happy if it was the last thing they did on Christmas Eve, and it was.
There has been talk over the years of Christmas shopping patterns changing. In particular, there is the growth of e-commerce, which its enthusiasts promised would put a profound crimp in the Christmas fortunes of small-town retailers. Then there are the bewitching wonders of the off-Island malls, where you can shop in company with thousands out of the rain. What if folks did their Christmas business at the Hyannis Mall or at BJ's? What if they ordered everything from Amazon? After all, you can order almost everything from Amazon, the new off-Island Alley's. What will these changes do to the Island economy? We fretted.
The news is that we shouldn't have. That report last week meant that the guys were following traditional herd patterns of behavior and spending their gift-buying allowances in Island shops, where, doubtless, wives and girlfriends had left instructions with their girlfriends who own or work in downtown shops about what would make a swell Christmas gift. In other words, the economy, maybe a little up, maybe a little down, could count on folks to do their traditional part in the holiday buying rituals.
And off-Islanders, who have been excessively malled for years, traveled here to Christmas shop and spend the holidays at their summer palaces. Steamship figures for December show passenger traffic between the mainland and the Vineyard up 7.3 percent, auto traffic up 1.5 percent. The December numbers dwarf the numbers for all of 2006, including December. For the year just ended passengers were up just two-tenths of a percent, and autos were down 1.4 percent.
Some of the more regressive among us may take pleasure in imagining that the Internet and all the brilliant 20-somethings who know almost everything about everything, and especially shopping, haven't yet figured out how to suck up every holiday gift buying dollar with a web site and a credit card cyber-siphon.
Personally, my research shows that after a slow start and a sort of early 1980s upswing, I find my shopping world is contracting. Reports on my earliest shopping habits, circa 1969, show that I did very little shopping at all. I made Christmas presents in the woodshop: unique jewelry boxes out of two by threes; dining tables with mismatched legs; bed frames which needed cinderblock supports.
In those halcyon days, I'd stop at Lillian's on Main Street (now the Bramhall and Dunn department store) for some foundation garments. Or I'd shop Ben Coggins's Ben Franklin Store, or Hancock's Hardware (now the Boch would-be parking lot).
In the 1970s, because I was working there, I would sometimes shop in Edgartown. Maybe Fligor's, or Hall's, once Lily Pulitzer.
In the 1980s, the booming economy had me in a tizzy. I shopped Edgartown, I shopped Oak Bluffs; in the early 1990s, we did Nantucket. Nowhere was off limits till I dropped.
But no more. I've apparently come to my senses. It's not a cyber-question for me. It's become a question of whether I will leave Vineyard Haven at all. This season, a trip to Leslie's, a little bit of Shirley's in my life, a stop at Bunch of Grapes, and my Santa's sack was full.
So, in conclusion, I report that I'm pleased with my contrarian regression, and I find that, for once, things may be trending in my direction.