Activist shopping 101

Combine holiday gift giving with community building by spending at local indie stores

Meredith Tanzer, co-owner of La Bussola, admires a Bodacious Baubles ornament, part of the downtown shop’s rotating selection of hand-made gifts.

Meredith Tanzer, co-owner of La Bussola, admires a Bodacious Baubles ornament, part of the downtown shop’s rotating selection of hand-made gifts.

Photo By David Robert

Moana Nursery’s gift shop smells of pine and foliage and spices. On the branches of large, color-coordinated trees hang ornaments that are simple and intricate, expensive and affordable.

On sale.

Tempting. But I’m not here to shop for me. I’m on a mission to finish my holiday shopping for friends and family members at locally owned independent stores.

At Moana Nursery, 1100 W. Moana Lane, I spot a Par-a-sol bird feeder made of hand-blown, recycled glass ($49). A work of art Mom and Dad would love. Seems a bit too fragile, though, to send 2,000 miles to my homeland, Wisconsin.

Durable plastic hummingbird feeders are $10, and nectar’s $5. Suet baskets are $6, and the suet cakes are $2, as are “peanut treats” that my parents’ domesticated squirrels would appreciate.

Then I spot tinkling, sparkling Aloha chimes ($35).

Mom loves chimes. She and Dad just got back from Hawaii. Perfect.

On the way to the checkout, I spot Christmas cacti in full bloom ($15) and a great $22 pot. For a friend. Since smaller cacti start at $3, I might be back.

At the register, I stifle the urge to buy a $1.50 bag of mistletoe and a snowman pen ($9).

A snowman pen?

You’ve heard: “Be the change you want to see.” If you’re like me, you’re having a hard time putting that into practice. Yeah, you shop at big-box retailers, trying not to think about sweatshops in developing countries and slave wages here. Or corporate welfare, environmental irresponsibility and union-busting.

Cuz, damn, those coats are cheap.

A coalition of Reno-Sparks business owners hopes to make it simpler for us to become conscious consumers. Truckee Meadows Conscious Community and Business Network boasts about 252 area indie businesses in its online database at, from auto repair shops to diners.

These locally owned businesses, not affiliated with national chains, want your business. But it’s a bit hard to compete with the marketing muscle of a multinational.

Get to some of them soon. You don’t know how long you have.

“We’re programmed to go to Barnes & Noble first,” says Sutton Porter, account executive for CCBN.

“But as we become saturated in more and more chains,” says Richard Flyer, group founder, “more people are looking for a unique shopping experience. What we offer is quality, service and a relationship with the consumer.”

Says Porter: “You can get what you want and feel good about it.”

I feel good cruising past Best Buy’s packed lot and on to The Melting Pot World Emporium, 888 S. Virginia St. Here’s an eclectic store that sells, yes, pipes and hookahs, as well as stickers, hats, scarves, belly-dancing gear, musical instruments, lotion, jewelry, bowling pin clocks and high-performance juggling sticks.

The Melting Pot comes recommended by Porter, who recently bought a hurricane lamp as a holiday gift for a friend. Who lives in Florida. Cute.

I park in front of the store, ready to shop for teens.

I pat bongos and sniff the offerings of The Handmade Candle Co. ($1.75 to $14.50), in scents like Mediterranean Fig, Love and Tuscan Orchard. I pet Alpaca gloves and handknit beanies. I consider a pair of “Mucklucks 10 Bucks.”

I settle on a tapestry bedspread (double, $24), a Jester foot bag (a.k.a. hacky sack, $10), an iridescent purple glass incense holder ($9.50) and some Nag Champa incense ($3.75 for 20 grams).

Someday, when teen-raising is but a distant memory, I’ll be able to call the whole experience back by lighting a stick of Nag Champa and letting it waft through the halls of my empty nest.

Temporary panic. Not enough cash for this armload of treasures. Not to worry. Major credit cards accepted.

Parking’s trickier at La Bussola, 211 W. First St., but I nab a metered spot with a free hour.

It’s Tuesday. La Bussola’s usually closed. For holiday shopping season, La Bussola owners recruited Joy “Mom” Birenbaum to keep shop. Here’s why you want to visit during Mom’s shift: Birenbaum bakes treats. Today, round, powder-sugary cookies with nuts.

A sign behind the counter reads, “Protect America’s most endangered species: Small businesses.”

Now, a gift for my sister-in-law—mother of two, high-level exec at Kimberly Clark Corp. Busy. I often buy books she doesn’t read. Not this year.

I rule out flour-sack towels ($12) and serving dishes made from melted record albums ($10). I briefly entertain an armless male torso topped with a shade, dubbed Man Lamp ("Let him light up your life,” $150) and a tile mosaic clock by Diana Ahrens ($85). Too spendy, breakable.

At Moana Nursery, salesperson Judy Rocha can lead you to just the right Christmas gift, large or small.

Photo By David Robert

Then I spot a woven wire rectangle adorned with beads by Bodacious Baubles ($22). It looks the right size for a tall box of tissue. My sis does Kleenex product development. Bless me!

Birenbaum shares my excitement and actually locates a box of Kleenex for a trial run. You don’t get this kind of personal attention at K-Mart.

Alas, box too big.

“I think it’s designed for a bottle of wine,” she says.

Even better. The Kleenex thing? Too obvious.

Almost done. I spot Ilene’s homemade soap ($5), imported from Truckee, and buy three bars of the best-smelling soap I’ve sniffed.

On to Sundance Bookstore, 1155 W. 4th St., No. 106, where I buy 1,000 Places to See Before You Die for my Significant Republican. He chalked off one such place by climbing Mount Kilamanjaro in September. I might put a sticker over the words “You Die” on the cover and write in: “Hillary Clinton Takes Office.”

It’s the small things.

I buy gift certificates redeemable at interlinked indie bookstores across the nation. Smart thinking.

One easy way to support local biz is by dining at locally owned, independent restaurants. A couple of my pals enjoy dining at the Vista Grille, 1250 Disc Drive, in Sparks, which offers gift certificates. In downtown Reno, Java Jungle and Dreamers both offer gift certificates. For my sweeter friends, I’m thinking moist, vegan brownies from the Dandelion Deli, 1700 S. Wells Ave.

Mmm. Chocolate.

Future indie shopping adventures will be easier when CCBN completes its membership directory of locally owned independent businesses. They’ll be signing up businesses, restaurants, banks and nonprofits for another month or two. The directory will come out twice a year, in spring and fall. Call 233-6914 for details.

Similar networks are forming in at least 30 U.S. cities. Flyer predicts that hundreds will follow suit. That could translate to millions of conscious consumers.

“We don’t have to oppose globalization,” Flyer says. “Instead of complaining, bitching and moaning about what you don’t like … take personal responsibility for your own destiny.”

Now that’s revolution.

Flyer wants to be clear: He’s not advocating a boycott of chain stores.

“Just give the little gals and guys a chance first," he says.