Letter From the Editor 


The woman in front of me in the Walgreens checkout line had just completed a combination grocery/hair care/Christmas shopping spree and was going through her coupons. I was going to be there a while. So I began looking at the eclectic junk designed to lure shoppers into last-second impulse purchases. Glasses repair kits. Chocolate vitamins. A talking reindeer. A Justin Bieber singing toothbrush.

The Bieber toothbrush was genius, I thought. It appeals to two markets: the ironic and the moronic. And really, who doesn't want a talking reindeer?

In the aftermath of Black Friday, which appears to have eclipsed Thanksgiving as the second-most important American holiday, and Cyber Monday, which lured a lot of my friends into spending hours on their computers, I've been thinking a lot about the politics of shopping.

In a 1992 decision, Quill v. North Dakota, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that retailers are exempt from collecting sales taxes in states where they have no physical presence, such as a store, office, or warehouse. Businesses with a physical presence in a state are therefore put at a disadvantage by having to collect an additional 5 to 9 percent in taxes on purchases, depending on the state. If, for example, I'd ordered that Justin Bieber toothbrush online, it would have been cheaper because I would have avoided sales tax. But that sales tax gets used to build roads and maintain state parks and other infrastructure.

In this sense, Walgreens is a "local" merchant. Which brings me to another discussion I've been having: shopping "local" versus shopping corporate. I've always prided myself on doing my Christmas shopping "inside the Parkways," avoiding the malls and big-box stores. But, as with most issues, it's not that simple.

I was scolded by a friend recently when I mentioned going to Starbucks to buy a bag of coffee. "You should always shop local," he said. Yes, but Starbucks is a block from my house, there was no "local" option at 7 a.m., and I wanted a damn bag of coffee. Besides, the people who smilingly waited on me are local. They live here, pay taxes, and spend their money in Shelby County like everyone else. If Starbucks wasn't there, those folks might not have a job.

I buy shoes at Zappos.com. I buy coffee and bagels at Otherlands. I shop at Kroger and Easy Way. I buy wine at my neighborhood liquor store. I prefer to buy "local," but shopping ideologically is a slippery slope, my friends. Judge not, lest ye be judged. Besides, that Justin Bieber toothbrush is calling my name.

Bruce VanWyngarden

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