Okay, yes, of course I’m excited about my new website — proud, even. Mostly, I’m delighted to find how often I use it. Now, when I’m not sure if I have time to make it to a store on my way home, I don’t bother to call — I check my website! Need a store address? I’ve got those too! But I’m not the one who counts. Which is why I can’t resist sharing this most gratifying email from local publicist Laura Oakes who I SWEAR I did not pay off:

"I just wanted you to know that my husband and I are putting AliShops.com to good use.  Every year we take a day off together without our son to shop and have lunch – usually we end up at mass-produced places or the MOA.  This year, we’ve plotted out our day (Friday) thanks to the great info on AliShops – Corazon, Two 12 Pottery, Gather and Wyrd Sisters so far. Thanks for the great resource -now we just need to pick a lunch spot!"

Sounds like a delightful shopping day, if I do say so myself. Oh, but wait, there’s a p.s.:

"Do you know anything about the gift shop at the Weisman Art Museum?"

Indeed I do — it’s a great place for interesting items large and small, from pottery and carved wood to handbags and jewelry. Museum gift shops are a category I intend to add to AliShops soon, so stay tuned.

Thanks to the many, many shoppers who have been checking out AliShops and telling me what’s good, what could be better, and what I’ve gotten altogether wrong. (Yes, dear reader, I promise to take another look at My Sister’s Closet. Perhaps I didn’t do this consignment/vintage shop justice, but I swear, from what I saw last time I was there, "moderate sportswear" was a fair description.)

The shopping never ends.

Confession: I kind of like the hustle and bustle at the mall the day after Thanksgiving. I do not like driving round and round the parking lot for 30 minutes, but I just won’t let it get me down. I enjoy seeing what’s in store, people watching and soaking up the festive energy. Just me, and 137 million like-minded shoppers.

But I’m not a Black Friday shopper in the true sense of the word. I don’t get up in the middle of the night to shop (unless my editor makes me) and I don’t camp outside stores. For me, it just doesn’t seem worth the hassle. True bargain hunters say the deals are there — if you’re prepared (and interested primarily in electronics and toys).

Do your homework: Know regular prices on items you’re interested in buying, so you can be sure to spot a true bargain. Bring a buddy to stand in the ridiculously long lines while you grab the goods. And keep your eye on the sales. This is not the day to buy merchandise at full price — it’s bound to get marked down within a week or two. Ah, the joys of the season!

   “Must be rough – shopping for a living,” the woman behind the counter at the post office said to me the other day. What could I say? It’s a dream come true. When I tell my boss I’ll be at the mall, she nods approvingly.

   As shopping columnist for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, I pride myself on staying on top of the ever-changing Twin Cities retail scene. New stores, cool trends, hot concepts. I’m constantly impressed by the many enterprising people in town who are willing to take a risk and open a store to bring us more clever stuff to ogle. I write about such shops and products in the Pioneer Press every week.

   And then the information disappears with the recyclables.
   I’ve long thought it would be great to have an online resource at my fingertips to help me find the newest shops, to remind of the boutique names I can’t recall, to steer me to the best shopping within a particular town or product category. There are a million websites that tell you what to buy, but first things first: you’ve got to know where to shop.
   So I created a website that will do all that – without any influence from retailers. What’s the use of a guide that says every store is wonderful? I’m not out to slam anyone (mother always told me: if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all), but I am hoping to provide some color, so you’ll know whether each store listed is your kind of shop.
   I hope you’ll find this guide useful, and I hope it leads to new discoveries – because shopping is all about the hunt.