We’re going to need more localized retailers in the years and decades to come, particularly food retailers. Amanda and I spent some time last weekend at one model of how that retail could work, Eclectic Trading Days. We found a mixed bag but came away impressed.
We Americans don’t realize how fragile our system of big box retailers is, resting as it does on a house of cards composed entirely of cheap fossil fuels. When (note the use of when, not if) the price of fossil fuels escalates dramatically and there are increasing periods during which gasoline and/or diesel are unavailable at any price, we will all find out how vulnerable we are, and it will be brutal.
Anything communities can do to prepare for the days when buyers and sellers live and work side by side makes those communities more resilient, so we were delighted to read in the Tallassee Tribune of the organized effort under way in the small town of Eclectic to create a local retail trade day. Eclectic is about 15 miles up the road from Longleaf Breeze, a hard walk, but a manageable bike or Vespa ride, so we’re proud to consider it part of our community.
Eclectic Trading Days happens on the second Saturday of every month, 12 months of the year (another good sign – people don’t stop eating in the winter!). The vendors’ stalls sprawl from the main location in The Warehouse on Main Street out onto the grounds in front of, beside, and behind The Warehouse all the way through the adjacent vacant store to Central Ave, so Amanda and I had a good time wandering around and exploring the sights, sounds, and smells.
We found a rich assortment of arts and crafts, of course, which are the mainstay of these trading days. Amanda bought a big mug of coffee, some handmade soap, and a long-sleeve t-shirt (Crimson Tide, of course). We ran into a couple of friends from Tallassee and heard about what they had found. We were also delighted to find Lawrence Allen from Alex City, who buys, repairs, and sells old clocks. We promptly arranged with him to get our grandmother’s clock repaired. The restrooms were clean, uncrowded, and convenient, and we could wash our hands with soap and paper towels!
We found only one produce vendor, and most of what he had to sell seemed to come from the industrial food system, although he did show us some Chilton County squash that looked good. How are people harvesting summer squash in Alabama in October and November – hoop houses? Predictably, we trudged away from his stall loaded down with collards and some of that squash. We passed on the persimmons. Curiosity beckons: do people grow persimmons on purpose, or do they just happen by accident, and then you have to get rid of them somehow, like fruit cake?
We had a delightful visit while we were there with Aubrey Hornsby, the owner of The Warehouse. He’s the organizer and (dare I say?) visionary behind Eclectic Trading Days. The video runs less than a minute and gives you a glimpse of how everything looks. After the video link there’s a map Aubrey has prepared showing his vision for Eclectic as a festival city. Cool!
Here’s the downtown plan: