BE INDEPENDENT

Fights break out between shoppers in Stretford. A man in Salford threatens to “smash a shop assistant’s face in.” Police make numerous arrests for assault. A woman is injured by a falling TV; another has her wrist broken in a customer pile-up.

Was it round 2 of the London riots?

Nope.

Tesco’s was selling electricals at 20% off.

This was Black Friday – an event as depressing as its name suggests. An exclusive one day only (two day only…extended weekend only…5 day only…) Flash Sale! in which everything is sold on the cheap – ranging from clothes and turkeys to Christmas Spirit and common decency.

Yet there is hope for the alternative folk like us who want to resist the mainstream masses and support local independent business. Saturday the 6th December is Small Business Saturday. Here, you can shop without leaving a massive footprint of Christmas consumerism on the planet, let alone on your neighbour’s face. There is a way to deck your halls and not get decked yourself. It is possible to save money, conscience and time – all on a student budget. Here’s how you too can enjoy an ethical little Christmas.

 Clothing

Exeter is stocked with vintage stores, including the Real McCoy, Bizarre Vintage, Relevant and Reloved down Fore Street to name a few. But these are often expensive and limited in choice, constructing pre-packaged Urban Outfitters-lite getups aplenty. Be more savvy and do the leg work yourself at charity shops. You’ll come across serious mistakes alongside serious finds. Sidwell Street is the place to go – shops are small but there’s a lot of them so you’re sure to bag a bargain if you look long enough. Levis, Adidas and many designer labels are often there for the taking at the cost of a pint. Also don’t miss Sancho’s Dress on West Street. Fairtrade, recycled, and ethical, these stunning Ethiopian designs make African clothing and accessories that will look good on anyone. Also, why not buy your Christmas cards here while you’re at it? You know you’re never actually going to send them unless you’re feeling particularly smug this year, so you might as well just count it as a donation.

Coffee

Exeter is in no way short on independent cafes, and luckily Christmas shopping entitles you to half-past-ninesis and half-past-tensis before your elevensis, so you can try them all. Look out for Devon Coffee, Mango’s, The Crystal Café and The Exploding Bakery. You can get proper coffee in shops that actually pay their taxes and won’t serve it to you in a lukewarm bucket. Homemade food also tends to be better at catering for those trying to live gluten-free, dairy-free, meat-free, plastic-free, road-mile free etc etc.

Food

‘Eat You Greens’ on Sidwell Street offer decently priced if slightly misshapen vegetables. Don’t leave without your raffle ticket, so you can WIN MORE VEG. Get your teeth stuck into Hartnell’s Fresh Foods Butchers on Longbrooke Street for meaty goods. They do really good student and bulk offers on organic and free-range meat, so as long as you have a freezer you’ll be winning when you come back to Uni in January. For homemade mincepies, organic dried fruits, fairtrade chocolates, fresh bread and locally produced dairy products, you can get everything you need for Christmas at Seasons on Well Street and the Real Food Store on Heavitree. Keep an eye out for their range of products that supports producers in Palestine, and know your shopping with your political priorities in order.

Culture

The Bike Shed Theatre is a fantastically quirky independent establishment, sitting beneath an independent bike shop. It’s a theatre, a live music venue and a bar serving everything from sophisticated cocktails and small plates to pints and a bag of Nobbies. The Exeter Phoenix and The Picturehouse are great art-house cinemas for film buffs and wannabe cool kids who need to brush up on their French existentialist ciné and Terrence Malick epics. The Picturehouse isn’t technically independent, but the handful of Picturehouse venues showcases both the big hits and the independent films that are a little less – whisper it – mainstream. Often with panel discussions before/after film screenings, you can get great locally produced food, lagers and ales at the bar and take them into the film. Bliss.

 Dining out

New Horizons on Longbrooke and the Dinosaur Cafe on New North Road are great places for traditional, homemade, Middle Eastern cuisine where the portion sizes will have you dine like all three of the kings while on a student budget. Service is more than welcoming too. When I first ate at Dino’s I didn’t realise they didn’t accept cards – he told me to come back with cash another day. Weatherspoon’s wouldn’t give me extra salad dressing. Point made. For vegetarians and vegans, try Herbies, the hugely popular independent on North Street. You might have to drag your friends into a veggie place, but the food is so good you’ll then have to drag them back out again.

So I hope this helps you keep your sanity as well as your kneecaps when out shopping this Christmas. Enjoy!