YOUR WISE SHOPPER: We didn't buy a thing on Black Friday. And, just to make it fair to merchants of all sizes and degrees of cold-hearted facelessness, we didn't buy anything on Small Business Saturday, either.

We were growing wealthier by the day, simply by not going out shopping like literally everyone else in the country. It was a move every bit as shrewd as when we avoided the Bernie Madoff-fueled market collapse of 2009 simply by leaving every penny we had in our checking account.

The only problem was, we didn't have any gifts to give for Christmas.

One year when we were a young adult living on our own, we went through the entire season without bothering to get any gifts.

Jessica Demian of Anaheim browses through sweaters on 4th Street, otherwise known as Retro Row, in Long Beach during Small Business Saturday, an event
Jessica Demian of Anaheim browses through sweaters on 4th Street, otherwise known as Retro Row, in Long Beach during Small Business Saturday, an event designed to promote local retailers during the holiday shopping season. (Brittany Murray / Staff Photographer)
When Christmas Eve arrived, we panicked, though not to the extent that we went out and purchased anything. Instead, we had the brilliant idea to announce to all our family as they sat among their gifts, that we would donate, in each of their names, the money we would have spent on their presents.

"For is that not," we intoned, our fingers interlaced with what we hoped would come across as grace, "the true meaning of this blessed day? Now, please join me in prayer."

Our mom snorted; everyone else was polite enough to sneer noiselessly. We ended up not donating any money to anyone. That was our way of punishing the cynicism of our greed-blinded family.

On Sunday, our daughter asked if we would go holiday shopping with her on Long Beach's Retro Row section of Fourth Street.


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We were watching football and doing the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle, so, of course, we told her to get lost. Who needs to spend quality time with a daughter on Sunday. You want to get all sad about it, listen to "Cat's in the Cradle," which is sort of what went through our head when we said, "Just kidding! Come on, let's go! It'll be fun!"

Sunday - maybe you know it as Cyber-Monday Eve - was the perfect day to go: No throwing elbows at Wal-Mart shoppers on Black Friday or tripping over smugsters at Small Biz Saturday. The mercantile world was our mercantile oyster.

We got more shopping done than in any day of our Christmas shopping history. (An aside here to the inevitable and wearisome crackpot: If we're talking about Christmas, we'll call it Christmas; if we're referring to the season, we'll call it the holidays. You're going to have to arrange your life around that fact. In this case, all the gifts we bought were for Christmas presents, so, yes, we were Christmas shopping, although we did buy a couple of things for our otherly hued friends and/or fearers of other gods or none at all, and maybe they'd like them for one of the other holidays that pile up at year's end, but the wrapping is going to make them look like Christmas presents. We're fairly PC, but not to the extent that we're going to buy wrapping paper from the United Nations Gift Shop).

Crowds aside, as they were on Sunday, the scope of products available on Retro Row and other small shopping districts dwarfs the entire array of offerings at Wal-Mart or a shopping mall.

We could shop at Wal-Mart all day long and come away with nothing but a 20-pack of crew socks and a five-gallon jar of pickles, but, excuse us helpful Wal-Mart customer service representative, could you tell us, please, on what aisle might we find a copy of Frances Gulick Jewett's 1927 "Physiology, Hygiene & Sanitation"?

We purchased that book (and a few bags of other things that you can't find in your basic "store") at Inretrospect on Fourth Street, maybe our favorite overall shop in this hemisphere.

The proprietor was a bit irked that he hadn't noticed that the book was in the store. "I would've kept that one for myself," he said, when we showed him some of the photographs in the ancient book, including a picture of a drunkard's liver and another of a mustachioed gent sleeping in a bed on the roof of his house in order to avoid consumption (the book reminds the gentle reader to keep warm, with the tip, "An inexpensive way to get extra covering is to sew newspapers between blankets").

On and on we went, snapping up toddler-size Who T-shirts, a toy piano that plays the same song over and over till you want to drop a bank safe on it, hard-to-find condiments, gaudy Christmas apparel, handcrafted boxes and artwork. 

After 90 minutes of shopping, we went to Portfolio with our daughter for some coffee before heading back to the car.

"Well, that worked out well," we said.

"It was great," replied Hannah. "Now, let's go to Second Street."

And so we did and it, too, was great.

tgrobaty@yahoo.com, 562-714-2116 or twitter.com/grobaty