Totnes: South Devon’s Alternative Village

Totnes

Totnes, an Elizabethan town in the South West English county of Devon, isn’t your average West Country village. Totnes is what is increasingly known as a Transition Town – in fact, it is a model Transition Town.

What is a Transition Town, you ask? A Transition Town is a municipality focused on sustainable local economic growth by encouraging the use of local resources and local businesses. One expression of this philosophy is the circulation of a superlocal currency, the Totnes Pound, which is accepted by scores of shops in Totnes. This currency is an impressive innovation for a town of just 8,000 residents.

totnesNot surprisingly, Totnes can be said to possess a definite crunchiness, especially in the form of new age shops and the Friday and Saturday markets at the town’s Civic Hall Square. But if visitors come expecting Santa Cruz in the English countryside, they’ll be terribly disappointed. Totnes feels like a typical English market town, albeit one with a particularly dynamic local retail environment.

There are many ways to gauge this retail dynamism. The sheer range of shops and relative lack of empty storefronts is one. Here’s another: Aromatika, a highly respected, organic, vegan-friendly skin care products company, is headquartered in Totnes. Clearly, the town is a good motor for at least some sorts of entrepreneurial activity.

It is the plethora of small shops selling crafts, niche products and home furnishings that really help the town make a claim to retail excitement. Several home furnishings shops sell a range of well-curated products, both new and vintage. My favorite of these is a place called Inspired Buys (see above), whimsically stocked with a number of beautifully upcycled items, including old maps, hand-painted posters and signage. During my visit last week I fell in love with an old vintage canvas school map of Britain on sale there, the chalk markings of a teacher still visible. At £40 ($64) the map might not have been cheap, but it is also easy to imagine the vast mark-up that the map would command at a big city hipster design den.

There are other reasons to visit Totnes: the magnificent East Gate Arch on Fore Street, which makes the town feel cozy and contained, its 16th-century wooden houses, Totnes Castle, its rambling lanes, its many cafes (of which the best is probably The Curator Cafe and Store), and the South Devon countryside all around. But the retail is a serious draw, and not just for people who like to shop. Totnes is trailblazing a kind of economic future for towns focused on nurturing small local businesses.

Totnes is three hours from London by train. The least expensive advance roundtrip fare found during recent research: £43.50 ($70).

[Images: Alex Robertson Textor]

World’s first pop-up mall: London’s Boxpark

pop-up mall

Millions of us will head to the mall this week to return gifts or buy what we really wanted from the after-Christmas sales. Chain stores, fast food courts, and packed parking lots are what most of us associate with shopping malls, but a new retail concept in hip East London is looking to change that. Boxpark is the world’s first pop-up mall, made out of 60+ shipping containers that house a mix of international labels like The North Face and Levi’s, UK designers Luke and Boxfresh, plus cafes and eateries such as Pieminister. Boxpark will be open for five years, and stores may change after a year or two. Befitting the Shoreditch neighborhood, don’t expect Claire’s Accessories or the Gap, but rather street fashion, cool sneakers, and funky concept stores and art galleries Art Against Knives and Marimekko. Already a huge trend with restaurants, one-off shops, and hotels, the flexibility of the pop-up concept means an urban (or anywhere, since the containers can be moved!) location, up-and-coming designers, and more creative retail spaces.

Check out all the retailers at www.boxpark.co.uk plus info on sales and special offers.

Duty free rules, know before you go

duty free rulesDuty Free. It sounds like such a good idea. Duty Free shops and zones in airports and other places common to travelers beckon us to save money . Quick and convenient, we find savings of up to 50 percent just after passing through security on the way to our plane, train or ship. But buyer beware, you may not make it to your final destination with that great deal.

Duty free shop personnel often lack import knowledge for destinations other than their own. They can get you going from where you are, but often laws of other lands will prevent bringing your duty-free items in.

Australian Customs, for example, has a section on duty-free in its ”Know Before You Go” guide for travelers that states: ”If you are aged 18 years or over, you can bring 2.25 litres of alcohol duty-free into Australia with you” – without mentioning that it is subject to regulations about liquids and must be purchased or carried according to strict rules reports the Sydney Morning Herald.

Travelers commonly find out the hard way that security rules concerning liquids vary from country to country. Some require bottles to be in tamper-proof packaging, others don’t. If where you buy and your final destination include a stop in a third country, even a short layover, your duty free purchase could be confiscated.

It’s a good idea to know before you go and online source dutyfree.com tells us “Duty-free rules vary by country, with policies ranging from simple and flexible to complex and rigid. To learn about a country’s duty-free laws, try contacting its customs or border patrol agency. Or, call a travel agency, duty-free shop or airline located in that country.”

Catalyst Creative: Duty Free Stores from Catalyst Creative on Vimeo.

Daily Pampering: Luxury Avenue in Cancun changes travel shopping completely

What do you do when your wallet starts to itch? If you’re sunning yourself in Cancun, Mexico, have a car take you from your resort to the new Luxury Avenue. This new travel retail destination has brought together in one place such stores as Mont Blanc, Cartier, Louis Vuitton, Ferragamo and Zegna — creating a shopping experience reminiscent of South Beach or Cannes. Luxury Avenue is within striking distance of the area’s top hotels, including Gran Caribe Real, Ritz-Carlton and Le Meridien Cancun.

When you need a break from toting your bags around — or if you want to fuel up for a run through Luxury Avenue — stop by the Luxury Bar and Café on the mezzanine level; it’s open from noon to 9 PM. There’s always Veuve Clicquot on ice, but you can sip a great red instead, if that’s how you prefer to unwind. Sit back in a bright pink loveseat — courtesy of Veuve — and chill like the flute in your fingers. If you’re intent on working in the midst of this decadence, at least you’ll be able to hit the free high-speed internet access.

Get your daily dose of pampering right here.

Cyber Monday: not just for retailers any more

After four days off, the world will slide behind its desks again on Monday morning. They’ll try to get back into the swing of work life, but it won’t be immediate. So, as they ease back into productivity, many will push into the shopping world they dodged three days earlier on Black Friday. The hotels will be waiting for them, with more than 60 of them pushing deals to try to get in on the holiday shopping action.

Around 69 million people are expected to jump into the Cyber Monday fray, with workers aged 18 to 24 seen as the most likely to shop at work. Overall, 54 percent of people with internet access at work will start to take care of their holiday season obligations on Monday.

According to a Shop.org survey, 87 percent of the retailers surveyed plan to get deals out in front of online consumers this holiday season, up a tad from last year’s 83 percent. So, it’ll be tough for the hotels to stand out, but this won’t keep them from trying.

Fifty of Starwood‘s resorts will be offering deals during a three-day sale that starts on Monday, with discounts of up to 45 percent. But, you’ll need to travel between the beginning of January and the end of April. Seven Affinia Hotels properties are offering 15% off a 2010 stay at properties in New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C. The James Hotel in Chicago is offering a 100% bonus on gift cards purchased.