I have a confession to make. Well before our local economy was blind-sided by the global pandemic that landed here in the beginning of the year, I was a dedicated Amazon shopper. From the comfort of my kitchen table and thanks to the quick link on my iPhone, I could shop anytime from anywhere, and so I did. Whether for gifts, personal needs, or groceries, if I could click, pay, and have it delivered free, I was in. As I look back, there was no sense of fun choosing something different, no personal touch, and no joy in what I’ve come to realize was merely obligatory buying. I ignored the nagging awareness of a lack of live interaction and stark disconnectedness from the things in boxes left on my doorstep. If there’s one thing staying close to home these past 8 months has gifted me, it’s unencumbered time to rethink some dusty old dissatisfying habits and the opportunity to refocus on what’s most important. There’s nothing quite like a crisis to inspire thinking out of one’s own box and purposefully creating new patterns. Perhaps the most refreshing of all changes has been opening up to wonderful people, places, things, and experiences no more than a few minutes away in any direction and without leaving the zip code.

Since February, my husband and I have made a conscious decision to keep our spending dollars exclusively local. I can honestly say we’ve stayed true to the challenge and were able to find just about everything we needed here in town without compromise. From hardware to art, unusual gifts, locally roasted coffee and fresh baked goods, personal and holistic care, pet needs, car care, jewelry, consignment, and so much more, we had no difficulty finding everything we needed. For dining out, choices are plentiful and outstanding. We can taste the world here in town at any one of Bethel’s wonderful restaurants serving  ethnic plates, creative fusion, and comfort food classics; we can even brag a little about one of our hometown chefs making it to ‘Chopped’. Inarguably, our food and bakery options are enviable.

Alice and Steve Hutchinson at Byrd's Books. A true passion for independent booksellers.

A few days ago, on an  ideal October day, I set out to explore and experience Bethel in preparation for upcoming holiday shopping, essentially becoming a tourist in my own home town. Since reading is a favorite pastime, I started at Byrd’s Books, an independent bookstore owned by local resident, Alice Hutchinson. I chatted for a while with Alice and her son, Steven; their knowledge and passion for books is apparent as the store is chock full of wonderful selections for every reading preference. I was pleasantly surprised at the great selection of gifts I wouldn’t think to research on Amazon, but was thrilled to find in their store. If you have a reader on your list, stop in to Byrd’s and you will find everything you need. Next door is The Toy Room. Kim Ramsey, also a local resident, always welcomes with a warm smile. Having two grandchildren on my list, there is no shortage of choices for them here in this floor-to-ceiling stocked treasure trove of playful things. Pangs of nostalgia were ever present as I browsed and recognized toys and games I loved myself. Spirograph, Twister, and Colorforms are only a few familiar favorites. It’s going to be great fun going back to The Toy Room for the kids’ gifts, and Kim wraps them, too! Further along the walkway, I stopped in at The Gift Cottage. Joan Craybas, another wonderful neighbor, has owned and managed her store for 28 years. We had a lovely conversation about the building renovation she has planned and her vision of its new look. Gladly, I accepted a sample of the most delectable Orange Zest Hauser Truffle. WOW! It tasted like Christmas! Offering a little history, Joan explained that Hauser Chocolates were once made here in Bethel until the family had to relocate to Rhode Island. Their truffles and iconic Chocolate Lace are still available at The Gift Cottage and are a ‘must try’ if you haven’t already. Only a short drive across town to Stony Hill, I stopped in at The Little Crystal Shop. Ileana, the shop’s owner, expressed her passion for beautiful crystals and their meaning. She explained that the jewelry is carefully selected from local artisans. The spiritual nature of her space was apparent, and she plans to expand her offerings in the future. Across the street from the Big Y plaza is UK Gourmet, owned by Lisa and Nigel Whitmore. Talk about nostalgia! Hailing from British ancestry, delicious and familiar tasty things and treats beckoned to me along every aisle, including meats and cheeses. I left with my purchases, knowing soon I would return for a UK-made mug, most befitting of my hot chocolate with a dollop of clotted cream and a wee dram, a perfect deep winter delight. A late delicious lunch from Duong Morris’s Sprouts Vietnam ended a day pleasantly full of surprises and reflection.

Kim Ramsey, owner of The Toy Room. An amazing selection of fun and games.

A bounty of items to choose from at UK Gormet

Sweet finds at every stop!

Consider the many important benefits we all share by keeping our shopping and spending dollars local. We cannot forget how Bethel businesses have supported charities and sponsored sports teams and our schools over many years. Personally, I’ll never forget how, through the worst of the pandemic, Bethel businesses rallied with loving support for our healthcare workers and our elderly and struggling neighbors with ongoing meals. The wholehearted spirit that created a tidal wave of generosity is still very much alive as we see how creatively our business owners have adjusted to COVID-19-driven changes to keep us safe as they stay open. Now is the time to reciprocate. As individuals, we can choose to continue nurturing our community and become part of keeping our local business economy off the fragile edge and bringing it back to its former vibrancy. When you shop local, consider these points: you support jobs, invest in entrepreneurship, help the environment, create more choice, show value in your community, make lasting connections, and you help make Bethel a regional destination.

As for Amazon, I won’t be shopping online this year. I’m staying local all the way. After straying afar, another Dorothy notoriously quoted: “There’s no place like home.” I resoundingly agree. And, I’m looking very forward to tomorrow, when I’ll be strolling Bethel’s streets again to see what else I’ve been missing.

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