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Layton • Black Friday morning at the Layton Hills Mall seemed strangely subdued. The initial midnight rush had ended and, at 7 a.m., many stores were empty, their workers standing around waiting to offer help.

To my knowledge, I had never been inside this mall before. But it's difficult to know. No matter where you visit, malls all pretty much look the same. Trying to find a unique, local store is a challenge in a place filled with reassuring sameness.

Like most malls, Layton Hills was clean and well lit. There was kind of a buzzing sound of nondescript music and people talking. The decorations seemed subdued, almost an afterthought.

Many shoppers looked dazed.

I talked to one woman who had been out all night, more than 12 hours at this point. She was drinking her third cup of coffee. Her friend wondered if it was all worth it.

Still, there was the thrill of hunt. I found several amazing deals as I began my Christmas shopping quest. Everything seemed to be 30, 40 or 50 percent off. I wondered if anyone ever pays the actual listed retail price any more.

What amazed me was the pleasant nature of workers, many of whom were up most of the night and most of whom probably struggle to make a living on what they are paid. Workers were nice and helpful. This time of year, that's a lot to ask.

That caused me to wonder about my own shopping attitude. Am I pleasant back? Do I take time to smile and thank those who help me? Can we laugh together about the foibles and quirks of the holiday shopping season?

That attitude can be difficult, though, especially in "big box" stores where harried workers seem indifferent and, at times, almost hostile.

For example, I went into a big chain store a few weeks ago in search of an electric blanket for my wife. Not being familiar with the layout, I finally tracked down a worker and asked where I might find one. Looking harried, she shrugged and said that the store no longer carried electric blankets. Skeptical, I walked a few feet from where she stood and found a whole row.

Checking out, I saw a poor woman waiting for a price check. She looked exhausted with no help in sight. No matter how nice I tried to be, the young woman at the register barely looked at me. I made a mental note to avoid that store in the future.

More and more, I am inclined to spend a little extra time and sometimes a bit extra cash to seek out the independent gems of stores, places where it is easy to get a question answered and where gifts are wrapped, something most of us appreciate.

In Davis County, Main Street stores in Bountiful and Kaysville hold more appeal. I've been lucky to find local gems such as Endzone Games in Clearfield, Three Little Monkeys in Bountiful and the Sugar Daisy Bakery in Kaysville tucked away in nondescript strip malls. In an era that celebrates sameness, they seem unique.

That said, the chains and big boxes often offer products that are difficult if not impossible to find at local stores. So, as a shopper, I compromise, sometimes giving the chains my business, while searching out alternatives.

I refuse to shop at some because I find their business practices and the way they mistreat employees offensive, all the while recognizing that many people less well off than I patronize these places because mass buying often insures lower prices. Too many simply can't afford to pay a little extra at the local stores.

It's easy to be a Scrooge or a cynic this time of year. But a season that encourages giving can't be all bad, can it?

Twitter @tribtomwharton

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