Caveat emptor: I'm not a fan of emu oil, bison steaks, or formerly McDonalds-owned Chipotle . And, shopping is not high on my list of things to do with my free time.
That said, one simple rule made yesterday's Sustainable Shopper's Ball a, well, ball:
"All our vendors must grow or produce what they are selling."
With this premise, everything becomes much more interesting. When the guy behind the booth designed what he's selling, your conversation can hold a lot more meaning. Some of my favorite participants:
- Alien Electric Scooters: convert your bike to battery-assisted power or get a cleaner, cooler version of a Vespa from an Austin original. Unlike your friendly Wal-Mart associate, they'll also discuss the latest innovations in continuously-variable transmissions.
- Bicycle Sports Shop: hub-integrated gears and other innovations on display, by the guy who'll fix your bike when you break it.
- Cobrahead: a vintage farm tool, redesigned to work more efficiently and incorporate recycled materials.
- Dhaba Joy: a vegan dessert bakery, located next to Toy Joy. I'm not a fan of the oatmeal ice cream, but everything else was tastier (and probably healthier!) than the Dunkin Donuts alternative.
- Katz Fair Trade Coffees: Nobody can honestly claim anything at Starbucks compares to Katz's Black Diamond Double Dark.
- Mr. Natural: Mexican health food. Think Taco Bell, invert, and add in free yoga classes.
- The Purple Fig Cleaning Co-Op: houses cleaned with all-natural products, at competitive rates, and sharing profits equally among employees. Disclaimer: my girlfriend just started this business, so I have no journalistic neutrality in talking about it
- Tears of Joy Hot Sauce: the hottest thing on Austin's 6th St., it burns so nice...
- Austin Green Art: turning parking spaces into environmental retreats, greener corporate art installations, and everything in between.
- Austin Electric Vehicle Club: from home-brews to a factory-built Ford Ranger EV, your Prius doesn't compare. And these guys can explain the exact technical reasons why!
- Dog CPR: seriously: somebody demonstrated how to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation on one's canine friend.
I'm still not sure what emu oil is or why anybody would buy it, but I did come away from the day with a couple pounds of really dark coffee beans and 2 bottles of one of the best hot sauces I've ever tasted.
And a lesson: not shopping is great, but shopping isn't always the enemy. Make a marketplace local, and it ceases to restrict itself to just commerce. Face-to-face with people who care, exchanges of ideas get mixed in with the dollars.
Then, you have a deal better than any Black Friday sale.