Posts Tagged ‘shopping’

The dish on visiting Replacements in NC

May 24, 2014

I’d always wanted to do a story on Replacements, but had no idea it would be sooooo much fun! Here’s my article, which originally ran in the Washington Post on April 27, 2014, and has since been reprinted in several other newspapers. Details for visiting are below the story. The kicker: I was cleaning out the basement after this ran and discovered yet another box of inherited crystal, worth enough money to warrant a return visit. This time I’m making a point of meeting owner Bob Page. Can’t wait!

By Diane Daniel

Replacements’ 12,000-square-foot retail store and museum near Greensboro, N.C., is open to the public, with free guided tours through the warehouse

Replacements’ 12,000-square-foot retail store and museum near Greensboro, N.C., is open to the public, with free guided tours through the warehouse

When Laurie Oliver, running the sellers’ counter at Replacements, Ltd., said that it might take 90 minutes to process my six plastic tubs of china, silver and crystal, my first thought was, I’m pretty sure I’ll need more time than that.

For years, I’d driven past the gigantic showroom and warehouse (“the size of eight football fields!” according to the Web site), visible along Interstate 85 just east of Greensboro, N.C., thinking that I wanted to drop in. Not because I like to shop (I don’t), but because the scale and mission of the place fascinate me. The aptly named company maintains the world’s largest inventory of old and new china, crystal, silver and collectibles – some 12 million pieces representing more than 400,000 patterns. Broke your Margarete Bridal Rose salad plate? Look no further. Want some cash for your Spiegelau Aida water goblet? Step right up.

The bulk of the company’s dealings, both buying and selling, occur online, on the phone, and through parcel delivery. But for more than 55,000 annual visitors, Replacements transforms into much more than a center of commerce. I experienced it as a dog park, a gay rights center, an inventory-handling machine, a tableware museum and a place of worship – or at least profound appreciation – for benevolent leader Bob Page.

The rainbow flag flies under the Replacements logo. Owner and founder Bob Page is known as a gay rights leader locally and statewide.

The rainbow flag flies under the Replacements logo. Owner and founder Bob Page is known as a gay rights leader locally and statewide.

I started my unofficial tour in the back parking lot (non-selling visitors typically use the front door). I’d dutifully made the recommended sellers’ appointment and had identified my inherited china patterns. But I’d also brought a hodgepodge of indeterminate crystal and items that I hoped were actually silver. (Prices are based on supply and demand.)

The first thing I noticed was the tall pole holding two flapping flags – one stamped with the Replacements logo and the other covered in rainbow stripes, the universal gay symbol. Owner Page, once closeted, is now known as a gay rights leader locally and statewide, a bold proclamation for a mainstream business owner in these parts.

As I was unloading my boxes onto a cart, two employees passed by, one walking a black Lab and the other a Pomeranian, lending truth to the sign on the door that reads, “Well-behaved pets welcome.” Staffers told me that though dogs rule, visitors have also brought cats on leashes and even a pot-bellied pig.

After Oliver explained the drill, she cut me loose to play. I followed the yellow tape on the floor down a long corridor in a warehouse toward the retail showroom, passing row after row of floor-to-ceiling shelves filled with china, crystal and some collectibles. (Hummels, anyone?)


Oslo highs (we’re not talking prices)

June 16, 2008

This is the last dispatch from Oslo, I swear. And, now, for some superlatives:

ToveBest Norwegian hospitality: Our Sunday lunch hosts Tove and Øystein win the prize here. Tove is the sister of Pusa Gundersen, the mother of my long-time friend Erik. I celebrated many a Norwegian-style Christmas dinner at the Gundersens’ home in West Newton, Mass., near Boston. Coincidentally, Pusa is also in Oslo on holiday, so it was fun to see her here as well. Tove and Øystein’s lovely home, a little south of Oslo, is near the Oslo fjords, which Wessel and I had a view of during our delicious meal.

Best transportation: Loved the public transport here, which include trams, subway, trains, and bicycle sharing. But the highlight was maneuvering a two-seater Th!nk City electric car through morning rush-hour traffic and onto the highway, hitting about 60 mph. Without Wessel navigating, I wouldn’t have made it. The cars, to be released in August, are coming to the US in 2009. Read all about it in my Ode magazine story sometime later this year. Very exciting! (I also drove a hydrogen-powered Prius for another story. That was cool too)

Regional traditional folk costumes for sale at HusflidenCoolest wool clothing and yarn store: Husfliden, which carries totally modern clothing and throws, including contemporary wool blankets made at Røros-Tweed, a historic textile factory with a wonderful story of reinvention that I can’t seem to find written in English anywhere. The store also carries clothing and accessories for the elaborate regional traditional folk costumes, called bunad.

Coolest cool-clothing store: Design Forum, a national chain. Reasonably priced for here, funky, feminine, great-for-layering tops, pants, skirts, sweaters, all made in Norway. Really great shoes too. Totally my style. Maybe I’ll convince someone to open an outlet in North Carolina. Can you imagine?

Hippest street: Grünerløkka is where the groovesters go, so of course Wessel and I were there, fitting right in with our American garb. The main drag of Thorvald Mayers gate (gate = street) has the usual assortment of trendy shops, cafes, restaurants and bars and from what I can tell is the only such street in Oslo. But since it’s become well known enough for us to find it, I’m guessing there’s something a little artsier and a little more fringe.

restaurant SultBest restaurant: The foodie favorite Sult, in Grünerløkka of course. The name means hunger, and it adjoins the bar Torst, or thirst. Small room, small menu, biggish meals at a reasonable price. Beautiful plating, ultra-cool photos on wall that matched the tabletops. Wessel had pork; I had catfish and we had one beer and two glasses of wine, for $130 plus a 10 percent tip. The waitress gave us a cocktail/cookbook from the original chef (now gone) that I wish I could read. It’s a great souvenir, anyway.

Most annoying smell: Cigarettes. Young people, especially women, smoke like chimneys, we were disappointed to discover. (They all have tattoos too.)

Best news out of Norway: Norway’s parliament last week adopted a new marriage law that allows gay folks to marry and adopt children and permits lesbians to be artificially inseminated. 

Loudest music: Under our hotel window on a Saturday night. That’s because one of the many stages around town for the annual Musikkfest Oslo happened to be quite close to us, which made our downtown street – and many others — quite lively. Most of the music was rockin’ and surprisingly very good. (I say surprising because bands were free and plentiful, not because they’re Norwegian! I mean, let’s not forget a-ha. Or rather, let’s.) The live music stopped by 11, but not the raucous partiers, who were still going strong when I finally fell asleep around 2. And was it truly dark out? Not really!


Can you say francobollo?

January 16, 2008

When traveling in another country, it’s often the everyday differences that stay with us. That’s why I love going into grocery stores, hardware stores, etc. Everything is a little (or a lot) different, from the signs on the walls, to the packaging, to the checkout lines. It can be humbling, too, when you have to ask for help while doing a basic task. That’s one of the reasons I feel compassion toward foreign travelers in the US.

In Italy a few months ago, I had a couple instances of “now what do I do?”

At the post office in Padova I couldn’t for the life of me remember the Italian word for stamp. (That would be francobollo.) My phrase book was useless and I didn’t have my postcards to wave about in universal sign language. I couldn’t just walk up to the counter because there were 15 of them, each with a flashing number. There had to be some system here, but what was it? I couldn’t find anyone who spoke English. Diane is puzzled by the number dispenserFinally, I went to the one clerk who wasn’t waiting on someone and kept saying, “stamps?, stamps?” and she knew what I meant. She took me back to the entrance and pointed to a bright yellow machine I’d totally overlooked, a complex multi-category “take-a-number” dispenser. She pushed the correct button, handed me my number, and led me to the correct line. I never would have figured out that one on my own.

Then, at the grocery store, also in friendly Padova, I was happy to find drinkable yogurt, olive crackers (yum!), and bananas. When I went to check out, the cashier held up my one lone banana, shaking her head, and said something to me. But what? “Scusi, non parlo Italiano,” I answered. Instead of chastising me and putting the banana aside, she said, “I show you. Come.” She led me back to the fruit section, placed the banana on the electronic scale and pushed the little banana picture to get a price label. “Grazie, grazie,“ I said with a wide smile. I was so grateful for her kindness, though I’m not sure the people behind me in line felt the same way.