Skip Black Friday—But Do Support Small Business Saturday and Your Local Merchants
While writing two books in one year and starting on two other books—yes, the sequel to Sister of Silence and another true-crime book—I’m afraid I’ve neglected my blog. But with the holiday shopping season upon us, and Black Friday 10 days away, I’d like to suggest you shop small this year. In a big way, by supporting your local merchants on Small Business Saturday.
Unlike the average American woman, I hate shopping. I will never be a fashionista, so I rarely know what style looks good on me. In fact, I consider myself fashion-challenged. As if that wasn’t bad enough, I really dislike seeing my distorted reflection in a dressing room mirror. It’s rare that I even find something I like well enough to buy, which makes the entire shopping experience frustrating—not to mention a total waste of my time and energy. So don’t expect to pass me in the mall.
However, like many working women, I realize that image is important. Dress for success and all that, right? I know the right clothes can speak volumes about your image. And if you don the wrong outfit, you won’t project the image you need to. (Imagine Katie Couric going on set wearing a plunging neckline and a miniskirt. Or Jennifer Aniston suited up like Barbara Walters.) Add to that the fact that any woman who has to be seen in public but who carries more than five extra pounds, knows that the camera is going to play havoc with that image and her weight—especially if she can’t fit into anything in her closet.
That was my situation last winter, in late February. To say I was a tad nervous about appearing on the Dr. Phil Show to promote my book would be a huge understatement. But that all changed after I went to Coni and Franc to find an outfit for that unique media opportunity. Not only did I leave feeling a few inches taller, but I looked slimmer, too—and I knew it. More important, I felt elegant, and full of poise. During a time I was under so much stress that I was having chest pains, Connie Merandi and her staff pampered me and reassured me and gave me the confidence to pull off such an important feat.
This is how they did it: they took a personal interest in me, and in my wardrobe needs. Connie, who knows how to take a woman’s lumps and bumps and make them invisible with just the right jacket, slacks or—equally important—undergarment, knew what would look good on my particular body style. She also knew what I should avoid wearing. And what would help me represent West Virginia (whose residents don’t always appear in the media wearing the most fashionable clothing) in a way that reflected well on the state.
Now here’s the thing about small-town, upscale boutiques like Coni and Franc: we look at their window displays and often think they are way out of our price range. I know I did. For years, I never went inside. Too much money, I thought.
And then I went inside. Because by then I was so pressed for time, I could not afford to fight traffic and drive across town to the mall or other clothing stores. I also knew I would be hard-pressed to find slacks that weren’t too long, meaning I would have to alter them myself—or find someone else to. That wasn’t an option, either. At that point I had more money than I had time.
What I learned once I was there, though, was quite valuable, and it’s something you won’t see happen in a franchise department store or chain dress shop. The first thing was this: Connie gave me several style tips that helped me look not just professional, but better than I ever had before. I will take Connie’s fashion tips with me wherever I go, every time I dress for success in the workplace. She also put me at ease, and every staffer there made me feel like I was the most important person in the shop. During a time that was extremely stressful for me personally and professionally, I needed that very much.
The second thing I learned at Coni and Franc’s was about price tags. Most chain stores have rigid prices that won’t change. However, when you shop at a boutique like Coni and Franc, the clothing comes in a wide range of prices. Business owners like Connie can and will work within your budget, to make sure you leave with something that works well for your special occasion. (Another bonus: the store has daily secret specials that you won’t know about unless you drop by.)
This was my personal experience, and when I saw the same thing happen to a single mother and her daughter, I was sold on Coni and Franc permanently. It was late in the day when the woman came into the store, saying she had been everywhere but couldn’t find her daughter a gown for a school dance. She told Connie how much she had to spend and in short order, Connie’s sales staff found the preteen not just a dress that turned her into Cinderella, but matching slippers, too—all within the mom’s budget.
You see, every customer who comes through Connie’s doors matters. Unlike big box stores like Wal-Mart, where I recently went to buy a box of tissues. Which I found in the cleaning supply aisle, the worst possible place for anything I put near my nose. That was when it dawned on me: many times I would go to use a tissue and begin sneezing from its smell. After a time, the odors from cleaning products apparently waft over and into the tissue boxes. I left the store without tissues but when I checked out, I suggested to a store manager that they might want to relocate those and other paper products to another aisle. Ironically, she said she has the same problem—and she had already suggested the same move to corporate headquarters. “But they never listen to me,” she said.
I came away feeling annoyed, and wanted to never shop there again. For if a company won’t listen to its own employees—especially management personnel—how on earth can we expect it to take our needs into consideration? In short, we can’t, which is why I prefer shopping at family-owned stores like Tanner’s Alley or Sunflowers.
And for all my clothing needs, Coni and Franc. I may spend a little more on a garment, but it’s a quality garment that will hold up well, with beautifully constructed seams that won’t come apart after the first wash. Each piece is destined to become a wardrobe staple for me, perhaps for years. So in the end I’ve saved a ton. Even better, I haven’t bought something that I will never wear once I get it home and realize it won’t work for me. I invite you to join me at Small Business Saturday, Nov. 29, and support your local merchants, too. I promise you won’t regret it.
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I have four books, and will be selling them at the Berkeley Springs Book Festival at The Ice House in Berkeley Springs, WV, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on November 29. My memoir, Sister of Silence, is about overcoming depression from domestic violence; Cheatin’ Ain’t Easy, now in ebook format, is about the life of Preston County native, Eloise Morgan Milne; The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese (a New York Times bestseller, with coauthor Geoff Fuller) and Pretty Little Killers (also with Fuller), released July 8, 2014, and featured in the August 18 issue of People Magazine.
For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.
Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!
Editor’s Note: Daleen Berry is a New York Times best-selling author and a recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. She has won several other awards, for investigative journalism and her weekly newspaper columns, and Sister of Silence placed first in the West Virginia Writers’ Competition. Ms. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. To read an excerpt of her memoir, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Ms. Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”