Buy Local When Shopping for Your Last Minute Xmas Gifts

Published on December 21, 2012, Pawtucket Times

Shelves at many local stores are crammed with holiday gifts and goodies – bright red Santa hats, Christmas lights, artificial Christmas trees and even holiday trinkets, all of which were stamped “Made in China.” Just a couple of miles down the road in North Attleboro, at Massachusetts-based Department Stores, you might pull items off the packed shelves, out of bins and even from clothing racks. Just take time to examine the tags. You guessed it, clothing, along with dishes, pots and pans, picture frames, you name it, all made from Chinese manufacturing companies.

Shopping for gifts for family and friends, just four days before Christmas, Rhode Islanders might just choose to purchase hand-made, “unique” products made by local artists, rather than purchasing mass-produced goods.

The Birthing of Rhode Island’s Buy Local Initiative

Lt. Gov. Roberts, who oversees the state’s Small Business Advocacy Council, kicked off the Ocean State’s Buy Local RI initiative in 2009. Roberts marshaled the members of this group, local Chamber of Commerce and small business owners along with local and state elected officials, to promote awareness of locally-owned, independent businesses to help increase sales challenging economic times.

Simply put, Robert’s strategy was to create a statewide network and web site dedicated to spotlighting local businesses and products and connecting consumers to these businesses. The campaign has now turned to social media—Twitter and
Facebook — to promote the initiative and engage a larger audience to expand the impact of the campaign.

Robert notes that Rhode Island enjoys a vibrant arts community with over 2,000 creative sector businesses that employ more than 10,000 people. “This sector has grown in recent years while other sectors have declined. We must continue to build awareness and support creative businesses–as we support all small businesses–especially during this slow economic recovery,” she says.

Aaron Hertzberg, Acting Executive Director of the Pawtucket Foundation, strongly agrees with the Lt. Governor’s call to Rhode Islanders to support the State’s creative community. “It’s important that we as a community support the small businesses of Pawtucket. They help to employ residents, share tax burden and increase the vitality of our community,” he says.

According to Hertzberg, Pawtucket has a number of wonderful retail options, especially in our arts community. “So many of these artist and shops specifically chose to do business in Pawtucket because we value their creativity and energy,” he says.

Stocking Stuffers at Hope Artiste Village

Gail Ahlers, of Pawtucket-based Ahlers Design (www.ahlersdesigns.com), a RISD Graduate who has designed custom art work and gifts for over 23 years, was involved with Lt. Governor Robert’s efforts to increase the public’s awareness of the importance of buying from local small businesses. She provided her creative eye to helping the committee select the By Local Rhode Island’s logo and web site design.

Ahlers has always believed in supporting local businesses. Since 1986, the artist had shown her art work at the Foundry Artist Holiday Sale. As its Presidents for eight years she worked hard to promote over 60 artists to sell their unique, handmade art work. As everyone who supports the buy local initiative, Ahlers will tell you that when you buy from local businesses, “the money stays in your community,” keeping the state’s economy alive.

When creating her custom made gifts she has made a commitment to source with local vendors, for raw material, and skilled local craftsmen. Her products designed in the City of Pawtucket are shipped world-wide.

When in conversation with Ahlers, she will tell you her “designs create joy along with jobs in Rhode Island.” Tomorrow, from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., at 999 Main Street, Ahlers Designs opens its doors to sell its unique holiday specials, including handmade business card cases, mirror compacts, desk clocks, light switch plates, and magnets.

On the other side of the large mill complex at 1005 Main Street, from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., the Winter Farmer’s Market Place, returns, bringing dozens of small businesses into its long hall way to sell more than just produce and fruit. Ahlers notes that shoppers can find grass fed beef, baked goods, homemade jams and jellies, even goat cheese and seafood, too.

No Sales Tax at this Pawtucket-based Art Gallery

In a fully restored 4,000 second floor of a nineteenth century textile Pawtucket mill, just a 20 minute drive from Woonsocket, Mad Dog Artist Studios and Gallery (www.maddogartiststudios.com) at 65 Blackstone Avenue, behind the GAMM Theatre and adjacent to the City’s William Tolman High School, opened its doors three months ago, during the City’s Pawtucket Arts Festival in September.

Tomorrow from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., in the 440 sq. ft. gallery, artwork of seventeen artist, including ceramics, handmade jewelry, hand-blown glass vases and glassware, and water colors, are available for purchased, no sales tax being charged, says Marketing Director Christina J. Garnett. This gallery is one of four certified art galleries in the City’s Arts & Entertainment District.”

“Why would you not buy local when we have so many great artists here,” quips Garnett. “These artisans are running their own small businesses, they support our community by living and working here.”

Artists in Woonsocket, Too

Notes Rebekah Speck, RiverzEdge Arts Director, the mill complex at 68 South Main Street in Woonsocket, also known as Le Moulin, is an excellent one stop shop for local gift buying in Northern RI. Her nonprofit sells affordable art work, recycled material planters, edgy and festive Tee-shirts and other small gift items, as well as gift certificates for photo shoots and graphic services.

According to Speck, among the 20 other small arts businesses and artisans in the mill complex. Yarnia, for instance, sells fine yarns and accessories as well as spinning and weaving equipment. “These are quality of life investments,” says Speck, “and not just stuff that you don’t need that accumulates and stays in landfills.”

Support the State’s Burgeoning Artist Community

So, now you’re shopping to get that perfect gift. Which way to go, mass-produced or hand-made. Go a head, just purchase that one-of-a-kind piece of artwork “Made in Rhode Island.” Choose to buy that beautiful hand-woven scarf or sweater made by a local Ocean State weaver instead of one imported and made by machine. Or
may be you might just purchase your next set of dishes, coffee mugs, cups and glassware from a local potter. By supporting local artists and artisans in the Blackstone Valley, you will see an economic trickle down effect – these small businesses generate wealth from local buyers and even outside of our state’s border and then spend and invest their money right here.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

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