Raise a Little Green

Escaping The Strip

The strip is the tightly controlled stream of products offered to us under the guise of choice - the mothership of cloned box stores, food chains and movie theatres that suck the unsuspecting locals of their individuality.

By Darren Kaulback
Published May 15, 2009

My wife, Ruth, and I recently decided to go out to a local restaurant. It's a great spot with lots of a character.

As we enter, we're promptly greeted by an enthusiastic hostess who says, "I love my skirt. I wear it all the time."

I quickly process this information, trying to decipher the code. Living in a city's downtown core, I frequently have unusual conversations with people I don't know about personal issues. But this time, in this setting, something was different.

After a brief moment of silence, Ruth (losing her slightly perplexed expression) returns the seemingly odd comment with delight and affirmation. Then the picture comes into focus for me. The hostess is referring to clothing she recently purchased from the thrift store that my wife runs.

I say, "That's great," not knowing for certain if she's referring to the skirt she's actually wearing at the moment or not. Either way, I know it's not cool to stare.

Then I realize that I'm wearing "previous-loved" clothing as well: my shoes, my jeans, my shirt. So I contribute this information to the conversation. And that's what I love about where I live. In this world of high style and pretense, in my community, it's OK to declare openly that you shop at a thrift store without fear of judgment or ridicule.

I'm not much of a shopper. I guess this puts me in the stereotypical male category - minus any metrosexuals in the room. But somehow, now with Ruth's new reign as the "North End Queen of Thrift," a new window has opened for me into this world of eclectic treasure.

The thing that makes me hate the whole modern shopping experience, i.e. Wal-Mart and any number of soulless, sterile, degraded (I'll stop here because my list is quite long) stores is that nothing there is special. In big box stores, you can look down an aisle and see neatly conforming sections of the same mass-produced stuff organized in tight rows - not unlike the view of a suburban landscape.

For me, in my newfound frontier, there are surprises lurking around every corner. No one is making aesthetic judgments on what I might find beautiful or meaningful - even though someone else may think it the most hideous garment or trashy trinket ever conceived. Does that matter?

There's such a great freedom in escaping "the strip" (and I don't mean the gaudy pink and black gentlemen's club around the corner).

For me, the strip is the tightly controlled stream of products offered to us under the guise of choice. Go to any strip or shopping district, in any town, in Canada, in the US, and you'll find the same mothership of cloned box stores, food chains and movie theatres has landed to suck the unsuspecting locals of their individuality.

I'm not asking anyone to downgrade their appearance or standard of living. If you haven't darkened the door of a thrift store, you might be surprised at the quality of goods that people cast off.

It really supports the cliche of "one (wo)man's garbage is another (wo)man's treasure." (And no, this is not a paid endorsement by the Thrift Industry. Believe me, now that I have the freedom of my own blog, I don't say if if I don't live it.)

What I am saying is that we have options.

Not everyone's going to jump on the "green happy wagon." If we could encourage a culture of purging rather than hoarding, there'd be enough stuff for all of us - for those who need brand new and for those who don't. It's a great way of stimulating the local economy and curbing the production of more stuff.

(This was first published on Darren's blog Raise a Little Green.)

Many of us have our own take on what it means to be green. For Darren, "green" goes beyond just the mechanics of living lightly on the earth, to a more soulful understanding of ourselves as part of nature. He authors a weekly blog, Raise a Little Green, where he highlights the "mis-adventures of turning green," challenges our cultural ideologies and assumptions, and asks the deeper questions of purpose and fulfillment. Darren is a TV director and filmmaker who lives in downtown Hamilton with his wife and two children.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted May 15, 2009 at 12:54:44

"The thing that makes me hate the whole modern shopping experience, i.e. Wal-Mart and any number of soulless, sterile, degraded (I'll stop here because my list is quite long) stores is that nothing there is special. In big box stores, you can look down an aisle and see neatly conforming sections of the same mass-produced stuff organized in tight rows - not unlike the view of a suburban landscape."

"For me, the strip is the tightly controlled stream of products offered to us under the guise of choice. Go to any strip or shopping district, in any town, in Canada, in the US, and you'll find the same mothership of cloned box stores, food chains and movie theatres has landed to suck the unsuspecting locals of their individuality."

Darren, if you don't like these stores then don't shop there! Mind your own business and let other people live their lives!


As for the skirt that the waitress bought at the thrift shop, could it not have been originally purchased at a big box store? Perhaps Wal-Mart? If so may God have mercy on you.

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By hunter (anonymous) | Posted May 15, 2009 at 13:49:10

While I feel the same way as the author in the article does, isn't it pretty basic? Corporate blandness vs. quirky shopping. Most people would have figured this out in high school, or before. The grownups that want the products from the strip get the products from the strip and the ones that don't, don't. They understand what's out there and what's best for them. They don't need to be told. I guess my question is, what is the point of this article, besides navel gazing and self-advertisement?

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By Meredith (registered) - website | Posted May 15, 2009 at 21:06:51

It's interesting to hear of new thrift stores/consignment shops around here. Perhaps I'll walk up there one day soon.

While I agree with the premise of the article, I still find thrift shops a bit hit-and-miss though. There's some great stuff there. But that's still mostly suited to casual clothing and personal items. And even though I'm not too picky (I wear jeans and a neutral sweater or t-shirt 90% of the time) when I need something more polished it's a whole other story.

So when I need a suit, or a crisp dress shirt, or something else specific, thrift stores aren't much of an option unless I'm very lucky. Even consignment shops (where quality may be higher/prices may be higher) are hit-and-miss. I've got a few good pieces of great quality that way, but it's much harder overall.

I've had the conversation a few times with others when we've wondered how we could get better Canadian-made (or even ethically-made) women's business clothing at any price point, and if.when something will open up to meet that market.

If it does, while not competitive with big box stores, hopefully the quality would be better and competitive with mid-price-point retailers.

Men have a few more options - Gilbert's will do custom men's suits with Canadian fabric or custom-tailor a suit made in Montreal - many other places do this or similar things as well - of course, they still start at over $500, which is a good price for a decent-quality suit, but not everyone is in that price bracket either.

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By Hopeful (registered) | Posted May 16, 2009 at 00:47:03

Meredith, I wonder if a craigslist or Kijiji posting seeking locals with seamstress talents might work. It would be great to have a website where folks could look for local skills to fulfil their needs.

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By geoff's two cents (anonymous) | Posted May 16, 2009 at 17:35:55

Darren, thanks for the article. Having recently relocated to Vancouver (not quite by choice), this west coast native misses the unpretentious vibe of downtown Hamilton. I do occasionally shop at thrift stores, though I've never once had luck with pants or shirts, only blazers and jackets. I do agree, from a "green" perspective, that more people should consider looking second-hand, though I suppose that would be contingent on people shopping brand-new to begin with. As for having a greater selection of shopping options - new, used, consignment, independent - you're bang on, though, for measurements like mine (wide shoulders, long arms), I'm usually stuck buying new; my girlfriend, however, was better able to take advantage of the wide range of used, consignment and independent shopping in the city.

Capitalist, you have once again missed the point, and I've yet to see any indication that you possess even the remotest understanding of a green/environmentalist perspective. At any rate, you simply do not make the effort. I agree with the notion of choice, but take issue when a person's choice (to drive/pollute everywhere needlessly, build freeways and houses in sprawling subdivisions with poor transit over creeks and farmland, etc.) has such a disproportionate impact on those who try to live a more ecologically responsible life.

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By brodiec (registered) | Posted May 16, 2009 at 19:23:44

I think it's worth pointing out that in "the strip" aka Hamilton Mountain there are quite a few thrift stores that have taken the concept and hybridized it with big box suburban shopping. Take for example Value Village or more locally Talize.

So it's not like people shopping in "the strip" are unaware of being ecologically conscious or more specifically thrifty.

Then again many of these places are mostly car dominated and on the peripheral of larger Smart Centres(R) style suburban resident traps. I like to them of them as a venus fly trap that preys on cars and prefers Mastercard. Pedestrians, transit users and cyclists too light a snack to satiate it's voracious appetite for volume purchasing.

Also Capitalist, I'm so glad we have a resident troll! Every good discussion has to have somebody play the fool. Sincerely, thank you.

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