In that backwards way that Oberlin blessings come, this collaborative post between me and Ma'ayan came to be when my camera broke in the middle of May and I left town without taking any of the pictures I'd wanted for this post. As this is my antepenultimate entry, I can say with some confidence that it's both my first and last collaboration. What a privilege it has been! Thanks, Ma'ayan!
For most Obies, the first stop should be Ben Franklin, the downtown everything store. Do you need school supplies? good books? cute fabric? houseplants? ethical gifts? They have them all:
Do you need mordant for your goldenrod dyeing project? You might be out of luck, or you might be very lucky indeed. I needed mordant a couple of years ago, and I asked Krista, the proprietor, who goes to my church. She didn't have any, but she called her sister Karen, who is a world-class dyer and spinner. Karen came to the store and told me all about the best mordants to use with goldenrod and how to do the dyeing and lent me pots to do it in. That is one of my favorite Oberlin stories to this day.1
My own first stop is usually Watson Hardware. After four years here I'm all set for desk lamps and colored pencils, but I need a ton of hardware: steel plates, hose menders, stainless steel screws. I love going to Watson. Everyone is friendly, and can point me to anything I need. Not only will they have it — solder, waterproof wood glue, a replacement nut for my bike, it doesn't matter — but, if my purchase is just a couple bucks, I also get to pick a thing I want in order to pay with credit.2 Recent presents to myself include a tape measure and a sharpening stone, both from my favorite aisle:
Jerry also cuts metal and welds for a reasonable fee. Since I don't own a welder yet either (nor, to be honest, would I be able to use it if I did), several pieces of my cider press were welded by the good folks at Watson.
For specialty items, like art supplies or presents for parents, Ginko is a good place to go. All the art is locally made, and some of it just takes my breath away. I especially love the felted animals. The first ones I saw, several years ago now, were quite pretty and charming. Now they are truly amazing.
I also love the wood-turned art, and the ceramics, and the soaps. Most of it's out of my price range, of course, but it's all free to admire. Unlike some art store owners, Liz doesn't seem to mind at all. Plus there are kittens.
For even more specialty items, like copper wire or small blue bottles with eyedroppers in them (you know, for fragrances, or poultry medications), you can always try Bead Paradise. Everything there is expensive (the prices are reasonable; the items themselves are just expensive items), but the people are friendly. Karen works there, for one thing. And they do have the most amazing little objects, like tiny boxes that close so well you can't see the lines.
And there's always the yarn shop. Since I am a nascent weaver and have no plans to take up knitting, there's little there for me to buy, but everything to admire: soft alpaca blends, fluffy merino, washable baby yarns, all in a dreamcoat of colors:
The Oberlin Market is tucked in a parking lot behind the two main shopping streets, almost perfectly between the back doors of Ben Franklin and Watson, which can make for a very efficient shopping trip (bonus points if you live on South Main). It sells (nearly) exclusively organic and/or fair-trade and/or otherwise ethical products. For most things, expect to pay about twice what you'd pay at, say, IGA (sometimes less, sometimes more). I shopped there when I could; I'm happy to pay a premium for the ability to access ethical consumer goods at a moment's notice. (Now that I'm gone, and don't have access to a farmer's market, let alone a little organic grocery store, I miss that maybe the most!) Not all of the Market's products are more expensive. Dry active yeast was fairly cheap when I purchased it; besides, just try finding more than the one-dose packets of dry active at most supermarkets. And pectin, for some inscrutable reason, was cheaper than anywhere else, including Rural King. According to my housemate Ari, the bulk spices also tend to be a good deal. Besides, they are beautiful:
On the other side of Main Street, Tansu is similarly tucked away. The boxes and cabinets that Jacques makes by hand are exquisite. I've only been in there once, to ask Jacques about where he gets his lumber; not only did he provide several tips about where I could procure some for my press, he also offered to provide help with any planning and design concerns I had. Since Tansu is only open from 12-4, I was in lab class during most of its open hours and in the woodshop itself during the rest, and I never took him up on it. But I never forgot the offer. Nor the boxes. Maybe someday when I am old and rich I'll buy one.
Now for the not-pictured:
The farmer's market! From fresh vegetables to cheese to beautiful organic baby blankets, the market has it all. During the summer, it lives in the parking lot of the public library (which is itself a treasure, but don't take my word for it; go see!). During the winter, it lives in Eastwood Elementary on East College. If you can get out of bed before noon on Saturday, check out the Market, which runs from 9 to 1 in the summer and 10:30 to 2 in the winter. The prices are lower than I, a native suburbanite, would have assumed, and — well, hopefully I don't have to convince you Obies and Obies-to-be to check out a farmer's market. Society is built on the bent backs of farmers. Do them a solid and buy direct.
I forgot to ask for a photo of Gibson's, but they deserve a mention anyway. I personally have little to buy there, especially since they don't have vegan chocolate chips, but I heard they make all the fresh food on the premises ‐ ice cream in the basement, baked goods and candy upstairs. I am duly impressed, and have forgiven them for refusing to take credit or debit.
Honorable mention goes to IGA, which isn't exactly downtown, but is a comfortable walk from campus (at least until you are laden with grocery bags, in which case the comfort level varies). It's a pretty typical grocery store except that they have an excellent selection of tea and Bob's Red Mill products. And — well, I wouldn't know — and I certainly wouldn't be able to tell you more via email — but I hear they have a bounteous Dumpster. In fact — and this I can tell you! — a group called Oberlin Food Rescue has been working to fight food waste and hunger in Oberlin and rescue food before it hits the Dumpster at all. They're a young group yet, but I am excited for their future! Keep an eye on them on their Facebook page.
Just a little farther along East Lorain lie Locke's GoGreen and East Oberlin Nursery, both of which are excellent sources for gardeners, aspiring gardeners, and people who do not yet know they are aspiring gardeners. Just saying.
And while we're wandering east from downtown Oberlin, there's one more store I just have to mention. The excerpt for this post originally read "downtown Oberlin has everything you need," but if your needs include chicken feed, cheap shrubs, and pickle-flavored potato chips, that is just not quite true. The place for those is Rural King #51, in southwest Elyria. Rural King has a policy of welcoming leashed pets. Rural King employees have a policy of feeding them dog treats. That is maybe all you need to know about Rural King. Oh, except that there is also free popcorn.
Karen also helped me dye my sky sweater. And she taught myself and Sarah Francis, featured in this guest post, to spin this semester. If you have any interest in fiber arts, sooner or later you will probably meet Karen, and be much better off for it!
I always thought Watson had a credit minimum of $10, but it turns out they don't. Nevertheless, I like to buy enough to make the fees worthwhile for them.