Takoma Park urges residents to shop where they live

Junko Hurd, left, rings up Bethany Karn's purchases at Now & Then, a gift store in Takoma Park, where city officials recently declared
Junko Hurd, left, rings up Bethany Karn's purchases at Now & Then, a gift store in Takoma Park, where city officials recently declared "Think Takoma -- Buy Local." (Jeremy Arias/the Gazette)
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By Jeremy Arias
The Gazette
Thursday, December 17, 2009

On a recent Saturday afternoon, Bethany Karn perused a display of earrings and necklaces in the Now & Then gift store in Old Town Takoma Park. Although finding the perfect holiday gifts for her loved ones was at the top of her priority list, Karn also was on a mission to give back to hometown businesses by buying as much as possible in the city.

"You don't want vacant buildings and storefronts," she said, explaining her dedication to shopping locally for the holidays. "But it also has a lot to do with preserving the character and vibrancy in downtown Takoma Park. . . . I live here because it's a walkable community with a vibrant town feel, but if I were not shopping here, the stores can't stay open."

With two businesses closing in the past month -- the Savory Cafe on Carroll Avenue and the Drifting Nomad sandwich shop in the District's nearby Takoma neighborhood -- the plight of the area's independently owned businesses is apparent. Two weeks ago, the Takoma Park City Council passed a resolution declaring this month "Think Takoma -- Buy Local" month, encouraging residents to shop where they live.

Aside from her goal to support local shops, Karn also faced the challenge confronted by every mother with a 13-year-old-daughter for whom she's shopping. "She just got her ears pierced," Karn said, examining a promising pair of earrings for daughter Sonja Plungis. "So we're starting that whole adventure . . . more things to buy."

At first, buying locally worked for Karn. She found just the right earrings, along with a selection of toys for a friend's newborn, all within a mile of Karn's house.

Her mother, Karen Karn, who was visiting from Ohio, found a stylish knit hat. By the time they reached the Tranquil Soul boutique down the block on Westmoreland Avenue, Karn's "buy local" strategy had hardly seemed like a challenge.

"You're going to have all of your shopping done, Bethany," Karen Karn said, gesturing to the bundle of gifts on her daughter's arm.

But when Karn called her husband to check the wish of son Alexander Plungis, 11, the "buy local" pledge hit its first snag. When the children were younger, a trip to Fair Day's Play toy store on Carroll Avenue filled out Karn's list. Now the children are more interested in video games and iPod accessories, neither of which are easy to find in local shops.

The nearest stores Karn could think of were in Bethesda, but she said she would probably order the more elaborate electronic gifts online. Even so, Karn decided to try Fair Day's Play to round out her day of local shopping.

After a few minutes perusing the aisles with help from store owner Lisa Beth Ripkin, Karn placed an order for a board game that son Mik Plungis, 15, asked for.

"I could get Beatles Trivial Pursuit at Borders," Karn said. "But I'd rather have her order it for me, so I can buy it here."

As Karn and her mother headed back to Karn's car after, they passed a fair number of people hefting bags from local stores and peeking into shop windows.

Ripkin's appreciative farewell followed them down Carroll Avenue: "Thanks for being a local shopper!"

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