Catching Up - Part 1

Today is one of those great days where you wake up, it's a Monday, you're getting paid to be at work yet you don't have to show up. I love days like these.

It's been a busy past couple of weeks. Work always consumes a great deal of my time, but on top of that I had to deal with home association issues and preparations for my mom's birthday two days ago. These last two weeks I've spent traveling quite a bit around the area so that was fun. Last weekend B and I went to Pittsburgh on Saturday, where we hit The Waterfront for lunch and IKEA for some good deals. On Sunday we went south through "Amish Country" in Ohio, though I did not see a single Amish community. We headed to Longaberger Basket Company and I'll be honest, that was a pretty terrifying place.

I'm not really into baskets, crafts, etc., so that's the first problem. I went there because my mom loves baskets and I wanted to get her a basket since they are "the basket" to have, so I've heard. B and I arrive on their factory site, which is nestled between hills and trees...really in the middle of nowhere. The factory looked like a typical factory building, but then we got to the Longaberger Homestead. We walk into the Welcome Center, which has a modern, perfectly spotless design yet just doesn't belong because you're in the middle of nowhere. It's too nice, too perfect, too clean and too quiet. And it's just too big for the surrounding area. The staff get you right away, telling you about The Homestead area, which includes a huge building with 16 shops, a large barn with more shopping, a Victorian house that is a "tea house", a small ice cream parlor building and a two story building which has a large restaurant.

After we leave the welcome center we enter this courtyard where you get the full view of The Homestead. A ton of landscaping, all perfect. Huge buildings in perfect shape and design. There were only a few small groups of people walking around the grounds, slowly, not talking. It was eerily quiet, I can not stress that enough. You get this feeling you're being watched by cameras and that any minute someone will throw a bag on your head, grab you, brainwash you and before you know it you are now a Longaberger employee working in the factory or at one of The Homestead shops.

We hit the big building with the 16 stores inside, which was basically one big store with 16 different sections. Some stuff was reasonably priced, but most of it was outrageous. I found a Christmas gift for my mom, B bought some tea and we also decided to purchase some soup mix. As it turns out very few baskets were for sale in this huge building; they were all in the factory building in their outlet store. B suggested we go to the factory but I wanted to see the Crawford Barn. I don't know why. So we walk toward the barn, and right before you get to the barn there is a huge sign saying that any video collected on the property can be utilized for Longaberger promotions. I KNEW I was being taped! So we head to the barn where a family was heading in right before us. The man held the door open for me so I had to walk through.

B and I got through the door and our eyes were attacked by country merchandise. And I'm talking deep southern country merchandise. I took one look, turned back towards the door where there was a rack of big rhinestone-studded cowboy belts. Yup, that was it. We left the building laughing hysterically, with B reminding me that I was the one who wanted to go to the barn. I'm glad we did because it was just too funny.

We do a quick walk around the rest of the property but at this point neither of us want to try out one of the other buildings. We came across this big "basket" of apples" and I think that was it for us, we wanted to get out. They had a shuttle that would take you to the factory outlet store (so they claimed - I think it was part of the brainwashing plan), but instead we got in the car and just drove there. Not a big deal, and much safer. We go in the main door; to the right is a make your own basket store where a lone saleswoman stood waiting for her next victim. I mean, customer. To the left was another welcome center with two employees talking and waiting to welcome us there, I assume. I avoided contact and went immediately towards the stairs leading to a second floor. I assumed that was where the outlet store was. I was wrong. It was one big concrete "plank" that went from one end of the factory to the other, where you could see all of the equipment. No one was working and most of the plant was dark, since it was a Sunday.

We decided to do the long walk, as at the very end you could see a store of some kind. Maybe that was where the baskets were. After all, this is a basket company. They should be selling them everywhere, right? We are walking along and see this huge, Sam's Club like area that appears to the factory outlet, which is on the floor below us. We went in the wrong entrance. Oh well, we keep walking. Along the path are reading boards regarding the history of Longaberger and their baskets. We get to the very middle of the building and all of a sudden there is an employee with a piece of equipment, ready to show people how a basket is made. Note that Brad and I are, at the time, the only ones there. He says hello, and his eyes try to get me to stay there and watch him showcase his basket-making talents. I move on, because I'm just not that compassionate. Unless he's going to let me buy the basket when he's done I'm not interested.

We get to the end of the plank and reach the store. Which only has a few very small baskets for $80+. Ugh, what a waste. We now head back across the plank, past the basket-making guy, down the stairs, past the other employees who have nothing to do, out the door. We walk around the side of the building and find a very small, not very well marked door for their factory outlet. Finally.

The interesting thing about the factory store is that they were set up for mass shoppers. There were at least 30 registers, there was rope in place for "line control", and there were hundreds of carts in the entry way. During the time we were there I would say there were less than 20 people in the store. So it was weird. I walk around and to my disappointment, there are still very few baskets. And the baskets they do have are the ones that did not sell well or the ones they call "Second QualitE" - meaning they are reduced in price because they do not meet Longaberger's high standards. I finally found a "lower quality" basket for my mom that I think she'll like, even if it's not perfect. The price is a lot more affordable than the other baskets I had seen up until that point, so I took it. We went to one of the five registers open and checked out. Honestly, is that place really that packed at any point in time during the year? They hardly even had anything to purchase other than a few baskets, a ton of basket protectors and basket linings. That whole place was just messed up.

We finally got back to the car and drove home. Safe, wonderful home. It was a good day...we drove down some really cool back roads, saw new sites and towns and managed to survive our time at Longaberger and even got a gift for my mom. Plus I got to spend the day with B so to me it was a good day.

I'll write more later on what we did this weekend for Mom's birthday. And it will have pictures!

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