Local Spin: Cupcakes of Faith
Buying local can be a most radical act this holiday season.
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Two columns for the price of one, both about shopping locavore style.
One: Starting a business is an inherently brave act. Starting a business in a down economy is inherently an even braver act. Starting a niche baking business takes a serious touch of dreamer. And starting a niche baking business in a down economy in an area struggling like hell for retail relevance…
Let’s put it this way. If you’re out shopping this Saturday and you’re anywhere near Oldtown Salinas, park near Gablian and Main, look east for the riotous pink awning on Gablian, step inside the confection-colored space and meet Jessica James. A little bit of a dreamer, a lot brave, and on the Saturday of what’s supposed to be the busiest shopping weekend of the year, she’s opening the doors of the niche baking business she calls “Fluff Cupcakery” in a strip of Oldtown that a group of all-girl merchants is transforming into a hub of bustle. (More on that later.)
During a visit to New York’s famed Magnolia Bakery, James, self-described as “not a sweets person,” fell hard for the idea that you can bake something small, decorate it within an inch of its life and make someone happy. She already had a keen eye for visual merchandising, having studied costume design and running an eBay business that sold vintage clothing to, among others, costume designers in Hollywood. And while it’s not hard to make a bad cupcake, James has mastered the art of baking damn good ones.
She started baking out of the kitchens at Angelina’s Heavenly Treats earlier this year and selling the results at Salinas-area farmers markets. Her first customer ever is still a customer today.
“THERE IS A SYNERGY IN THE ANTI-WALL STREET MOVEMENT AND THE BUY LOCAL APPROACH.”
“People are so excited to see cupcakes. I don’t know why, but they make people happy,” she says. “It’s all I think about. I’m a freak. I’ll come up with a flavor, and then I piece the puzzle of that recipe together.”
Cupcakes, she theorizes, are a matter of nostalgia. And so on Saturday, after spending the past six weeks transforming the beat-up Theo’s Cheesesteaks space near Maya Cinemas into something nostalgically adorable, James will start trying to sell upwards of 500 cupcakes a day.
Two: Yes, you can probably buy perfectly serviceable cupcakes at your anonymous chain grocer. You can also buy furniture, soaps and lotions, tchotchkes and sandwiches at big-box stores, and all would be perfectly serviceable. You could actually buy most of the aforementioned stuff online. But if you shop at big-boxes and ignore your locally owned stores, you’re doing less good for the community. And if you gravitate toward shopping online from the comfort of a slanket and your own living room, you might be doing less good for your community than if you put on some clothes and went to your local big box.
Here’s why: If you shop at a locally owned store, an estimated two thirds of every dollar you spend stays in the community. It means when you give your cupcake money to James, your sandwich money to Mely or Erika over at the Bakery Station, your tchotchke bucks to Michelle or Lisa at Urban Farmhouse, tea cash to Terri at Gold Leaf – that’s most of the all-girl Gabilan merchant crew – they, in turn, spend that money locally. (Substitute out my favorite little shopping district for your own, whether it’s the artsy main drag in Castroville, the mom-and-pops in P.G. or the quirky nooks of Old Monterey.)
But spend the same dollar at a big box, and two-thirds of the money leaves the state, bound for the well-stocked Minnesota coffers of Target or the beefy Arkansas bank accounts of Walmart. Stay home and shop online, and you might be buying from a merchant that refuses to collect and pay sales tax in California – what good does that do our schools, our public safety departments or our streets?
So it’s worth the question: Do you want to work a little harder when you’re shopping, maybe spend an extra minute finding parking, and gravitate toward the places where the dollars circulate back into the community?
I asked Deamer Dunn, the Pajaro Street Grill owner, who’s helping lead a “buy local” charge among business owners in Oldtown Salinas.
“I think the case could be made that there is a synergy in the anti-Wall Street movement and the Buy Local approach,” he wrote in a Facebook chat. “To the 1 percent of the 99 percent who have made the sacrifice to get out there and protest, thank you for your help in focusing the debate. To the rest of the 99 percent who feel the pain of this recession and the heartache of such limited opportunity and don’t know what they can do to participate in the call for a more just and equitable economy, I say, ‘Buy local.’”
MARY DUAN is the Weekly’s editor. Reach her at email@example.com.