When you buy a sweater at a department store, does the sales clerk truly appreciate your business? Have you ever walked the entire length of a shopping mall without seeing one item that was truly unique? Do you find shopping online convenient--but devoid of charm? When you wrap up a plastic gift card, do you feel as though you've been cheated out of the joy of selecting the ideal present?
In North Central Massachusetts, 17 small business owners (see map) have banded together to offer shoppers an alternative to meaningless modern shopping rituals. When they host their annual Country Roads Christmas (December 7 and 8 in 2013 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day), visitors are treated to a warm and friendly holiday shopping experience featuring free refreshments, special discounts and children's activities and rewards at each stop. Plus, if you visit all 17 participating shops and complete a stamp card, you'll be entered to win a variety of prizes including a grand prize package valued at over $600 featuring gifts from each store including a Santa from Country Mischief.
Sure, this is a shopping promotion. But Country Roads Christmas is also a journey through the alluring countryside that lies just about an hour west of Boston, as well as to a New England you may not realize persists in the 21st century. Fourth-generation farmer Al Rose, who owns Red Apple Farm in Phillipston, Massachusetts, with his wife, Nancy, says that Country Roads Christmas was conceived not only to encourage support of local businesses but to hearken back to "old New England roots." Participating small business owners meet and plan for the two-day event year-round, forging relationships that strengthen their own operations and the community.
Country Roads Christmas is "meant to be just the opposite" of the typical holiday retail madness and the "hustle, bustle of Christmas," Rose says. He recalls how touching it was when shoppers at his farm store spontaneously broke out caroling one year: "That does not happen in the mall," he says.
I had the privilege to meet many of the proprietors who collaborate to keep the spirit of Christmas past alive on a preview tour of their diverse and distinctive stores, and on this photo tour, I'll introduce you to some of these hard-working New Englanders and their wares. Most are open during regular hours or by appointment year-round, but the Country Roads Christmas tour is truly the best time of year to visit and discover them all.