All you need to know about my town of Corinth, Miss., is right here on the top shelf of our local paint store, where, by the way, the staff spent almost half an hour carefully blending and matching paint for our bathroom. The young man helping me found our house colors in the battered metal card-catalog files lining one wall — they were listed under our address, which he knew as soon as I told him the name of the builder. I’d never seen anybody blend and match paint before — fascinating! He mixed proportions of shades identified by letters, spread a bit of the result on the color card of the original, dried it with an ancient-looking hair dryer and then studied it carefully, bringing in his co-worker to discuss the merits of “maybe a little more C?” or “there’s too much B in that.” Finally he was satisfied and charged me less than a typical Starbucks trip (because who can resist a Peppermint Brownie Cake Pop, Frosted Snowperson Cookie and a way-cute coffee mug along with a triple venti latte?). While the guys were working, I turned down their offer of water or coffee, talked to the store’s resident dog and imagined I was picking paint colors for our dream home. (I especially liked Ralph Lauren‘s River Rock finishes and double-especially liked the Swamp Willow color entirely due to the fun factor of saying “Oh, that’s Swamp Willow” whenever anybody might compliment our paint choice.) I also eavesdropped on accidentally overheard some excellent gossip about the cousin of the sister of the pastor of the attorney who’d taken somebody’s son-in-law’s divorce case. If there’s a local family-run paint store in your town, go hang out there. And buy some paint.
Because I’m a dedicated and enthusiastic shopper investigative fashion reporter, today I delayed my usual weekday routine of getting home from work and plopping down on the couch in my PJs. Instead, just for you all, I went shopping covered the breaking fashion news of new pricing at JCPenney. All day I’d been hearing and reading about JCP ditching multiple sales and discounts for a simpler three-tiered pricing schedule, and I wanted to see for myself. I expected to find crowds of curious shoppers eager to check out this new approach — and maybe that was true at some JCPenney stores. But not at mine. You pretty much could hear the crickets chirping at the JCP I visited … along with laughter and animated conversation coming from the employees, who were having way too much fun talking to get distracted by mere customers. I have to admit that I’m not a JCP fan and I didn’t see anything on my recon run that would change my mind. But in the pursuit of truth and justice and possible bargain buys, I’ll keep looking. Just for you.
You know that one of my pet peeves is product packaging that lies to us. Packaging that delights in not being what it seems. Packaging that says, “We, the big corporate skin-care people, sit around a table and think of ways we can squeeze every single dime out of you, our clueless & inattentive customers. Because we think you basically are stupid.” Because that’s exactly how I felt when I opened up this jar of and realized that what I saw was not at all what I got. See, you think that when you buy this product, you’re getting a jar full. Wrong! There cleverly is a hidden smaller jar inside the outer jar — a maneuver that effectively cuts the amount you thought you were purchasing by … oh … say 15 or 20 percent? And I know, I know — the actual amount of the product is clearly and accurately marked on the packaging. But, really, who thinks, “Well, it says ‘1.7 ounces,’ but clearly this jar holds less so I won’t be surprised when I open it and find evidence of marketing trickery!”??? Nobody, that’s who. I’m sure there’s a survey somewhere that says this size jar is the size customers prefer. And then when filling that size jar endangered the profit margin, some smart employee came up with this chicanery. I am shaking my head in disgust … but of course my skin stays smooth and resilient despite the frowning and wrinkling this stunt has caused. And that makes me remember I’m nearly out of Regenerist Micro-Sculpting Cream and probably need to get some more. Sneaky, Oil of Olay — very sneaky.
It is good times again in my adopted town of Tupelo, Mississippi, with the recent announcement that Toyota will open its under-construction plant in nearby Blue Springs in the fall of 2011 to build more Corollas. The plant means an estimated 2,000 new jobs. I don’t care what part of the country you live in — that is good news, indeed. In fact, Dear Husband and I spotted this sign at Harvey’s, a popular Tupelo restaurant. Seems like lots of local folks are brushing up on their Japanese and preparing to graciously welcome any newcomers Toyota sends their way. Reminds me of what my husband used to say about his mom, who’s 93 now. She worked as a Veterans Adminstration nurse and for the longest time held a not-so-gracious opinion about Japan. “I knew that World War II finally was over in the 1980s when she broke down and bought a Honda,” he says. I think she’ll be pleased to know that the Japanese are helping boost Mississippi’s economy — and Mississippi paychecks. “Domo arigato,” Japan.
The big news in my northwest Alabama town this weekend — besides people having to cover up their pansies and azaleas for the Final Freeze — is that three chain stores are moving in to a deserted shopping center that recently housed Goody’s (a Southeast clothing company gone bankrupt) and a Toys “R” Us and Old Navy that apparently we couldn’t keep in business. My town also has killed a Pier One, Michael’s, Stein Mart and IHOP — who puts an IHOP out of business??? — and, then of course there was our Linens ‘n’ Things, which wasn’t our fault because nobody could save those stores. But now I have mixed feelings about Ross Dress for Less, Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft and Bed Bath & Beyond coming here. On one hand, it’ll bring much-needed jobs and taxes — and those are good things. On the other hand, we can’t keep the small hometown stores in business, either: I still mourn the loss of the restaurant-supply store my friend’s family owned and the gourmet kitchen shop parents of Younger Daughter’s friend had that couldn’t compete with the big-box mass-discounters. And our local family-owned and -operated string of three fabric stores is now down to one — and it specializes in home-decor sewing instead of handmade-clothing sewing. I’m just not sure what I think. Somebody tell me what to think. And is Ross Dress for Less anything like the shining star of discount style — T.J. Maxx? I’ve been in maybe one Ross Dress for Less – do we have to say the whole name or is “Ross” sufficient? – maybe one time so I’d love some guidance.
But there is one thing I’m certain of: I’m not a baseball fan. And not because of the reasons you might think. The truth is that I’m actually sort of afraid of baseball. I know, I know — weird, right? Read my weekly newspaper column to find out why — and to find out who the one person is I overcame my baseball fear for. You know who! http://www.timesdaily.com/article/20100409/ARTICLES/4095005
Any store with a sign on its front door requesting customers to “check their firearms at the customer-service desk for safety purposes” goes straight to the top of my favorites list. This is Scruggs, in Tupelo, Mississippi — a sort of combined feed store, general store and John Deere dealership. Think Home Depot, farmer-style. My husband swears it’s the best place to buy mouse traps and other mysterious manly things he uses around the house and I’m happy to let him be in charge of those chores. And even though we don’t have a horse or cows or cornfields, I still like to wander around Scruggs’ aisles and browse. I think I like this store because it reminds me of one of my all-time favorite retailers — Rural King. And my all-time favorite Rural King store is in my mother’s hometown of Effingham, Illinois. When we’d go visit my grandparents, we’d usually stop at the Rural King, which anchored the local mall. (Who needs a JC Penney’s or a Sears when you can buy everything from jeans to seed at the Rural King?) For the longest time, that Rural King was the only place my dad could find Carhartts, and I’d usually find a comfy and cozy sweater while my brothers would head for the toys and my mom to the flower-gardening aisle. Maybe I’m just a country girl at heart. Check out Scruggs at http://www.scruggsfarm.com and Rural King at http://www.ruralking.com/
Sweet Magnolia Cafe, a new restaurant in Seven Points in Florence, Alabama, has quickly become the place everybody’s going to. Owners Doug Johnson and Ken Shepski have created a stylish eatery that offers fresh and creative food (I could just dive into that salmon salad right now) combined with friendly and attentive service — always a winning approach no matter how scary the economic scene. The small inside space is somehow both cozy and chic and nobody seems to mind the literal lack of elbow room — this is not the place to gossip unless you want all of Florence to hear about your cousin’s neighbor’s sister-in-law’s affair. You can also dine outside, on one of Seven Points’ actual seven points — one of the best sidewalk-cafe spots around, especially when you’re sipping an espresso and nibbling on Italian Creme Cake and thinking that next time you’re really going to have to try the Red Velvet Cake, too. And of course you know I can’t go into a restaurant without checking the bathroom — and Sweet Magnolia gets extra credit for extending its theme of efficient yet upscale design even into this all-important room. In fact, I would recreate the whole bathroom in our own house, although my husband, for some reason I still don’t understand, detests the sink-bowl trend and prefers the good ol’-fashioned white enamel sink with three-fixture chrome faucets. Oh, well. I think Sweet Magnolia’s stylish version might change even his mind. Seven Points in Florence — a formerly bustling retail center with tons of history and ambiance — is one of those areas that people shake their heads about and say, “It’s such an interesting spot with so much potential. Somebody should go in and open up someplace really cool.” Well, now somebody has. Let’s hope for the best. Visit the Sweet Magnolia Cafe’s Web site at http://www.thesweetmagnoliacafe.com/.
Homewood, Alabama — a small town that’s virtually indistinguishable from adjacent Birmingham — is one of my favorite shopping destinations. Seems as if something new and different always is popping up there — such as the store White Flowers. Owner Diana Hansen recently relocated her gift and clothing boutique to Homewood from nearby Mountain Brook Village, and the all-white window displays immediately grabbed everybody’s attention — in a quiet and serene way, of course, because that’s how you feel as soon as you open the door and are surrounded by all things white. Hansen sells jewelry, candles, home decor and clothing as well as T-shirts, nightshirts and baby clothes that feature her own designs inspired by art and gardens — all in varying shades of white and natural neutrals. Be sure to visit the White Flowers Web site, http://www.whiteflowers.com — it’s as graceful and peaceful as the shop.
Yes, the economy is bad. Yes, people are watching their pennies. Yes, businesses are failing every day. Yet, in my town of Florence, Alabama, a newly opened Chinese restaurant is so popular that there’s a line to get in from 11 in the morning until 2 or later in the afternoon — pretty much unheard-of around here. And that’s not even including the takeout business. Even weeks after it opened, there’s still a half-hour or so wait at lunch. But so worth it. Everybody asks, “Have you eaten at the Rice Box yet?” and the lucky ones talk dreamily of the fresh-tasting vegetables, the light and flavorful stir-fries, the innovative sushi rolls and, of course, the fried dough rolled in cinnamon and sugar known as Chinese doughnuts. (I have to limit myself to one 10-piece order a week.) Why is this place successful when so many others aren’t? I’m not sure, but here are some observations: The Rice Box has 1) good food that’s actually cooked to order in the kitchen instead of warmed-up in the microwave after being off-loaded from the freezer truck; 2) affordable prices that mean you don’t have to feel guilty or sacrificial about eating out; 3) a knowledgeable, friendly and efficient staff that keeps the traffic flow moving without stress; and 4) unobtrusive cleaning that keeps things neat and sanitary despite the crowds. Plus, it’s in a nearly empty shopping center where rent, I’m sure, is not astronomical. The Rice Box decor is calm and serene without being cloying — the dark wood and contemporary lighting makes it seem modern and sleek — and the restaurant’s layout means diners can peek into the bustling kitchen and grill area but the noise and chaos doesn’t take over. I’m not sure exactly what the Rice Box is doing right, but it sure is doing something. Check it out at http://www.ricebox.us — and you’d better go ahead and get two orders of doughnuts.
Shopping in Huntsville, Alabama, has taken an upturn ever since Bridge Street Town Centre opened almost two years ago. Billed as an outdoor mall and lifestyle center with a stylish European flair, Bridge Street definitely is a fun place to stroll and window shop and see and be seen. It’s beautifully landscaped and maintained and has plenty of easy-access parking. The retailers here are the usual suspects — Gap, Banana Republic, Victoria’s Secret, Anthropologie and J. Crew are my favorites — but there’s also a Kate Spade, where I usually wander in, shake my head in disbelief at $525 handbags and walk back out again. Luckily, more in line with my budget are the classics of DSW, Old Navy and Barnes and Noble. But really the best part about Bridge Street is the food. This is where you’ll find the always-popular P.F. Chang’s and Maggie Moo plus the L.A.-based Dolce and Ketchup and a Melting Pot, making Bridge Street a dining as well as a shopping destination. The Monaco theater and the accompanying lounge Scene are hot spots, too. I mean, who could say no to enjoying wine and sushi in a leather recliner while watching the latest flick? Not me.
P.S. I’m sure you’re asking yourself, “If Bridge Street is so popular, where are all the people in these photos, Miss SmartyPants Reporter Blogger Person?” And I say, “Good question.” And here’s the answer: I took these photos about a month ago on the day that news of swine-flu cases in Huntsville was just breaking and schools were closed and everybody was supposed to stay home and wash their hands. And so of course I thought, “This is the perfect time to go shopping.” Wouldn’t you???