Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Joy in Valley Junction. by Patresa Hartman

I have five nieces and one nephew, and they are outrageous lunatics. I am so grateful for them and their ridiculousness that I can barely stand it. If they ever turn normal, I think the earth will turn sad sad sad. And so, every Christmas I try to find gifts that will encourage them to be weird. A great place to do this is at your local theater shop.

I discovered the treasures of a theater shop last Christmas when I wandered in grumpy and then lost myself in rock star wigs and glittery microphones. I bought a set for each, plus crazy Elton John glasses, and left the theater shop absolutely giddy and convinced I had found the secret to remaining joyful during stressful holidays. Yesterday, I returned to the theater shop and came out with top hats, moustaches, and magic wands. I giggled all the way down the street.

I learned something else yesterday...about shopping locally. Having worked earlier this year at a locally owned bookstore that had to close, I already understood the importance of supporting the little guys. But yesterday my body absorbed and noted a whole different energy in the small shops.

In Des Moines, we have the historic Valley Junction. I do not know why it's historic; but the signs say it is. It sits off railroad tracks by an old train depot in an old part of town. Small local businesses occupy a mixture of typical storefronts and old houses with large front porches. There are at least two antique stores on each block, a few coffee shops, a Mexican grocer, and three bead shops.

One of my favorites is the Fair World Gallery, which sells goods made by people in refugee camps all over the world. My nieces are receiving friendship beads made by a group of women who have moved to Des Moines from a Burundi refugee camp. Another favorite is a shop called Porch Light, where you can find a mix of new and antique household items. My coffee cup currently sits on a Hercules orange crate found in Porch Light's mix.

After a quiet and charming afternoon wandering through small, thoughtfully themed shops, I went to Target, and the mood shifted.

I like Target, typically. But I did not like it yesterday. Loud. Industrial. Crowded. I felt like a cog in a factory. I squinted through the flourescence, grabbed what I needed, waited in line with the other frowny pants, and then left as quickly as I could, hiking to my parking spot in the very back of a cornfield-sized lot.

The moral of this story is: I am grateful for the weirdness of my nieces and nephew, and I am grateful for the small shop owners who help me navigate Christmas shopping peacefully and joyfully.


Angie Ledbetter said...

Hip hip hooray for the wild and weird! Love costumes and strange things myself. And I'm with you 100% on the big industrial places which I refuse most of the time. Love the little out of the way places. Now...I'm off to the hardware store, the indie bookstore, and several other Mom & Pops to finish my shopping. :)

Barbara Quinn said...

Laughing..weirdness is good for us..makes us individuals.

I try my hardest to stay away from the stores and malls with the crowds and overheating and blasting music. It's so much nicer and less jarring on the nerves to visit the small stores. Your nieces and nephews sound like a true joy. And you are a fine auntie!

Kathryn Magendie said...


I hate "your" indie bookseller went out of business...dang it all...
Here in our little mountain town, we try to support our local businesses as much as possible.

This post made me smile Big and Wide....I want to go to the Theater shop!!!

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