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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Chinaberry Books: Frugality and Community

A while back, I wrote about creating a budget category for COMMUNITY. This is where I would earmark money to support businesses I value. The COMMUNITY category would accommodate visits to restaurants owned by friends and colleagues. That is why, when the students in my night class said, "Can we get pizza next time?", I suggested that we instead patronize the cafe owned by one of our instructors. So we did.

Have you heard of Chinaberry Books? This is a wonderful book service/catalog with wonderful recommendations for children of all ages. These people really know what they're talking about.

The company sent me a catalog (unrequested by me) 21 years ago, after the birth of the little guy who grew up into Frugal Son. They must have gotten my name from Biobottoms, a now-defunct company, from which I bought cloth diapers.

It was hard to find my community back then: cloth diapering supplies, cotton baby clothes, good quality toys; these were available mostly through very pricey catalogues, which I dreamed over, but seldom bought anything from.

I only bought a few books from Chinaberry. I was--and still am--a thrift-shopper and library-user. But I pored over the catalogs nonetheless.

Evidently, I had a lot of company. The catalogs started carrying notices that people who looked, but bought from discount stores--or now from on-line book sellers--were helping contribute to the decline--and perhaps eventual demise--of this wonderful company.

I don't get the catalog any more. I hope one day to have grandchildren for whom to buy books. I look at the website now and again, to relive the happy days of parenting little ones. Today I was struck by a post from the founder:

The collection of items on our website is the result of literally thousands of hours of work by our staff. We are a small company, so those thousands of hours should say something about our commitment to offer you an intelligent and thoughtfully-selected collection of items. From games that we actually play (you wouldn’t believe how many games have unclear instructions) and toys that we kid-test (and you wouldn’t believe how many problems we find in that process) to items for the family and home that we have used and loved and books that we read cover to cover (and reject thousands), the Chinaberry catalog is a one-of-a-kind catalog.

So, what you find here is the cream of the crop. And while I can’t pass up a good game, love watching a child have fun with a cool toy, and appreciate something that will make my life better at home, there is simply nothing like a book. Books can make us wonder, astound us with what has occurred in the past, make us more compassionate, make us more able to stand up for what we believe in, make us want to get outside our comfort zones and maybe do something, and make us better people. The fact is that a game, a toy, or something for the kitchen just isn’t going to change us or change the world, but a book can light the flame that will do just that.

And this is why it is very significant and disheartening to us that we have had to decrease the number of books we are offering you in the catalog. We devote more time than you will ever know to reading books and then choosing the ones that are great read-alouds; will make you and your child laugh together, think, or talk; will ask your early teen to think about more than the typical teen in our country is thinking about; or that you, as an adult, might find to be a worthy escape when you have a moment to yourself. Unfortunately, so many of those who receive our catalog go to the giant online book source (we all know who it is) to buy the books that they’ve read about in Chinaberry, that our company can no longer continue to devote the same resources to finding great books. If the Chinaberry catalog is of value to you, we ask you to spend your dollars with us if you find a book here that you want. We know it is tempting to get a bargain, but independent booksellers like us survive only because of customers who value our service and take the extra step to support it. We ask that you take this into consideration when choosing where to buy your books. And to those of you who have loyally supported us throughout the years, we offer our heartfelt thanks — your orders are what have kept us in business and for that we are truly grateful!

So often for me frugality has seemed to conflict with community. But I am making an effort to build community into my conscious spending.

Any more thoughts on community and frugality?


Northmoon said...

Sometimes the cheapest option is not the best way to go if you consider the long term or bigger picture.

Making the Walmart founders another billion or giving a neighbour who owns a small business a modest living? My choice is not Walmart.

Marcela said...

This post reminded me of the movie "You've got mail"...
How sad...
I love independent bookstores and artists and I have tried to support them, to make a little room in frugality for them. Being a minimalist helps, I guess, because I don't buy much, but now that I move from a country to another so often it is not always easy to find these gems. Thank you for sharing this website.

Duchesse said...

Hear, hear Northmoon! When my sons were small I loved Discovery Toys and though not cheap, they lasted and returned so much delight- and were worth every penny. Not exactly a local business (it's home party based0 but so much better than Toys R Us, which one son called "Toyruss"

Frugal Scholar said...

@northmoon--Well put. I am working on this.

@marcela--You may enjoy looking through the website. How lucky you are to have little children to read to!

@Duchesse--Oh, I have some of those toys--the marble run was a favorite.

Anonymous said...

I have been guilty of this very thing...with the "Common Reader" catalogue. I treated their review like a magazine and would pour over it endlessly. Often I would buy the books they recommended from the online retailer that shall not be named. However, I would buy British titles from them.

They too had to stop sending out such a wonderful magalogue.

Linda said...

This reminds me of the time I read books to my son at night. Well, not anymore, he's all grown up.

I would have to admit of being guilty too, getting a catalog and buying on another discount store. Oh well, it's to save after all...

This is a nice blog by the way. Keep it up.


Linda Casey
Credit Cards for Students

Marcela said...

I did enjoy the website very much and I may order from them for Christmas :) I have always loved children's books and used to buy them for myself, all grown up and all (I almost bought a Harry Potter wand at 29, so...;). Now that I have Luka and Zoe to buy and read to it is double the pleasure. I don't have the option of a library because we don't speak greek (yet), so buying or borrowing from friends are the only options.

About the idea of community, I just wanted to mention that living in Africa (Ivory Coast) changed me in this (and many) ways. Africans (because this applies not only to Ivorians) have a very strong sense of community, they understand that we are all united in a common fate and that each person's actions have an impact in those that around him. Lack of compliance with these social norms is severely (socially) sanctionned. Selfishness or what is perceived as such) is not tolerated. I have written about it a little in two posts, below. They are in Spanish, unfortunately, but I am attaching the links just in case.

Thanks for the thought provoking post!

Gayle Ann Berg said...

I do feel guilty that I get my books at the library instead of from a small bookseller. I suspect my habits will change once I have grandkids to buy books for!

Frugal Scholar said...

@Terri--I remember that catalog. It was fun to read. I borrowed it from a friend--does that make me less guilty??

@Linda--My conflicts exactly. Thanks for stopping by and I hope you will return.

Frugal Scholar said...

@Gayle Ann--Strangely, I don't feel guilty about the library. It's part of the community too.

Sheila said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sheila said...

Thanks so much for your thought-provoking post in support of Chinaberry! We love hearing about people who have know about us since way back when.

You've really touched on a great idea to create space in your budget for community. I just love that concept and appreciate the reminder.

Thanks again for shining the light on Chinaberry!

Frugal Scholar said...

@Sheila--Wow! thanks for the comment. I am honored.