Why do we buy so much stuff and expect low prices? Why have U.S. companies outsourced manufacturing to other countries? Check out this 20-minute presentation (http://www.storyofstuff.com/) to understand how the world suffers by America's consumption habits. It has made me rethink my glee over dirt-cheap bargains. It motivates me to spend my money with ethical, local businesses rather than franchises and chains. I may pay a percentage more, but in the process I can support business practices I respect, cut out the waste of shipping, and get a product/service I can trace to its roots. (Also, I am not asking another person to pay with their quality of life for my low cost -- watch the Story of Stuff!).
True I still forage in Marshall's and Tuesday Morning from time to time, but I also discovered Labaire Pottery in Norcross, GA. They have beautiful original pottery, jewelry, paintings, and other home decor gems all made by American artists (including owner Anne Labaire who paints vibrant landscapes). For ten years, they have been "celebrating American ingenuity, talent and creativity." Now I do too, everytime I buy a gift there. (UPDATE: Anne Labaire closed her lovely gallery and now works and sells her art down the block at the Kudzu Art Zone, http://www.kudzuartzone.org). Another excellent venue is the local arts and crafts festival. Georgia is home to a bounty of these.
Two favorites of mine are the Inman Park Festival in the spring(http://www.inmanparkfestival.org/) and the Yellow Daisy Festival at Stone Mountain Park in the fall (http://festivals.stonemountainpark.com/mini-section/default.aspx?id=14). Delay gratification, make a wishlist, save your money, and when the festival comes to town, go hunt for something original and fun.
Alternatively, there's Ten Thousand Villages (http://www.tenthousandvillages.com/), which although not solving the packaging/shipping dilemma, does pay its artisans a fair wage, helping families in Africa, Asia and Latin America attain a better quality of life.
If you happen across this post and know of other purveyors of local or handmade merchandise, no matter where, please post their contact info below.
More to follow on awesome locally-owned (and supplied) restaurants.