Dear Readers November 13, 2008

I remember my first trip to West Town Mall. Moving to Knoxville from a small town in West Tennessee, it was a treat to be able to go to a mall without having to plan a whole day around it.

Need something at a department store? Just jump in the car and head West from the University of Tennessee. Fifteen minutes later -- the mall. Where I grew up, the nearest mall was in the neighboring town of Jackson -- 30 miles away -- and involved (gasp!) driving on the Interstate.

When we started Blount Today, my only experiences shopping in Blount County were faint memories of trips with my mother-in-law to Proffitts at Midland in the early 1980s. Once, when the boys were playing in a soccer tournament at Vulcan Fields, we ran over to Foothills Mall to kill time between games.

Other than that, my shopping experience in Blount County was nil.

I tell you that to tell you this: I am now a Blount County shop-aholic. I still live in Knoxville. It’s a compromise with my sweet husband, who is very practical, is the only reason we will have a dime in retirement and works in Oak Ridge. He doesn’t want the drive from Blount and figures we are each equal distance from our workplaces where we live now. Even I have a hard time arguing with that logic.

So, from where I live, I am that magic 15 minutes away from Turkey Creek’s shopping mecca and 15 from West Town Mall. If you’ve ever been to Knoxville, you know all the opportunities that lie in between.

But I shop in Blount County. Why? Well, there are three reasons.

The first is loyalty. While my children may not have benefited from the schools and economy my meager shopping dollars support, my newspaper does. Blount County has been good to Blount Today. The acceptance of our newspaper may not have been immediate, but it was quick. We still have businesses who have been with us since that first year. They like what we do, what we stand for and the results they get from Blount Today readers. I like being able to give back to their businesses -- whether it be restaurant, drug store, retail, dry cleaners or bank. I love Blount County and want to do whatever I can to support the local economy.

The second reason is a little more frivolous. It’s fun to shop in Blount County. I’ve always been more of an individual store shopper than a big mall, but even Foothills Mall has a friendlier feel than West Town. People seem less hurried, less likely to cut you off for a parking place, less prone to push past you in an aisle. I like knowing who the store managers are -- whether it’s big boy Wal-Mart or little guy Fairview Jewelers. I like the servers in restaurants who bring me my hot tea with lemon before I even sit down. I like the fact that it takes me longer to get what I’ve come to find because there are people to visit with on each aisle. And I’ve only been here four years! I can’t imagine what it’s like for those of you who grew up here.

The third reason is perhaps the most important. The reason is: Because I can. My mother was extremely loyal to the businesses in my hometown, and she never went anywhere in town that she didn’t see someone she knew. But, if she wanted the latest in fashion or a bottle of good wine or a new style of purse she saw in a magazine, she wasn’t going to find it at the dry goods store on the square.

Shopping in Maryville today is easy. I love the clothes and accessories at Boyd Thomas and Razberries. The Market has me wishing I had more time to spend in the kitchen, and has my mind racing with unusual items for gourmet gift baskets. I could spend a fortune at Dandy Lions and can’t wait to see how happy the young ladies on my Christmas list are with what I’ve found for them. I’ve given my husband a long list of things to choose from to put some “sparkle” in my life -- one at Maryville Jewelers, several at Bristol and Bragg and one that Dave Neumann in Townsend has hand-crafted. And Foothills offer department stores and specialty stores. When I don’t have a clue what I’m looking for, I just browse and end up walking out with a bag or two.

The point of this, of course, isn’t to introduce you to my shopping habits. The point is to make you think about where you spend your money -- whether it’s a small amount or big bucks. With Black Friday coming up, get to know the offerings right here at home. Times are hard right now for many of your neighbors who own or work in retail, restaurants and the service industries. Don’t take your Christmas list to Knox County. I’m betting you can find the same bargains and much better shopping right here at home.

Shop local. Be loyal, have fun, and you’ll surprise yourself with what’s available right here in your own backyard.

Sherri Gardner Howell


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