Back to School Shopping

August marks the close of the summer with school days just around the corner.Backpack on to school  For many, this means a lot of shopping must be done. From school supplies to sizing-up clothes, it’s back to school and retail shopping season.  Whether you shop in store or online, we hope to provide you with some helpful information to shop smart.

With the click of a mouse and the ability to shop late at night, online shopping is often thought of as easy.  We can shop online while in our pajamas, but the lax nature of online shopping can leave us open to be less aware of our purchasing decisions.  Before you buy online, we suggest that you explore the site and do some research.

mobile shopping

  • Review and take screen captures of the return policy and save them in a folder on your computer—just in case you have to return something later.  
  • Check out online reviews by typing in the name of the business and “complaints” to learn about others’ experiences.  

Countless times we have heard consumers say, “I would not have bought from this site, if I had read the reviews.” Reviews are telling of consumer experience, letting people know if they received the product they ordered and if they were satisfied.  Review sites can be helpful for both online and brick-and-mortar stores.  Use sites like the Better Business Bureau and Yelp to get more information before you buy.

retail clothesDid you know that retail supports more than 95,000 jobs and contributes more than 4.9 billion to the Vermont’s economy?  Or that clothing and footwear are exempt from Vermont sales tax?  If a retail location has a refund policy, they must post it at the point of display, the cash register, or the store entrance.  Don’t assume that just because you purchased something at a physical location you will be able to get a refund! Vermont’s Consumer Protection Rule 106 – Disclosure of Refund Policy informs about what is required of retail locations in disclosing refund policies.  Don’t forget, you can always call CAP at (800) 649-2424, if problems arise.

Happy shopping.  And, don’t forget to enjoy these last few days of summer!

Contributing Writer: Crystal Baldwin

Sources:  National Retail Federation, Vermont Department of Taxes

Vermonter of the Month: Dan Fraser

This is a monthly series in which the Attorney General will feature a Vermonter doing exemplary work in their community. Have someone you think should be featured? Email AGO.CAP@vermont.gov.

Dan Fraser at Dan and Whits

Through helping raise over $1 million for local nonprofits and providing second chances at employment, our July Vermonter of the Month, Dan Fraser of Dan & Whit’s in Norwich, is proving that small businesses can have BIG impacts on their Vermont communities.

Dan D. Fraser is the Vice President and Treasurer of Dan & Whit’s, a family-owned general store which is fondly considered the unofficial community center of Norwich. Dan began working at Dan & Whit’s (named after his grandfather, Dan S. Fraser) afterschool for two hours a week while in the 4th grade. As an adult, Dan continued his dual responsibilities of school and store for many years while working as a special education teacher and continuing to work at the general store. For 14 years, Dan worked in the Hartford (Vermont) and Dresden (New Hampshire) school districts before leaving to focus solely on his work at Dan & Whit’s.

After meeting with Dan and hearing about the positive work he is doing in his community, it’s clear that the same passions and beliefs that informed his work as an educator have carried over to his business. If you haven’t had the pleasure of visiting Dan and Whit’s or meeting Dan, just look to the banner hanging outside of the store—”Hate Does Not Grow In the Rocky Soil of Norwich, Vermont”—for proof of this.

What sets Dan and Whit’s apart from other general stores? What is the mission?

Our motto is “If we don’t have it, you don’t need it”—produce, meat, grocery, gas, hunting/fishing, clothing, hardware, lawn/garden, beer/wine, etc.  We are the epicenter of town. Houses are sold locally in reference to us—“Just 2 miles from Dan & Whit’s.” We are the “community center” of Norwich. Our mission is to serve our customers. We set ourselves apart from other general stores in terms of size and product selection. We are open every day from 7am – 9pm, except for Thanksgiving and Christmas when we close at noon.

 What inspires your work, both at Dan and Whit’s and in the community?

What inspires me—well, giving back to our community, supporting the needs and organizations of our customers creates loyalty.  It’s a win-win.  We like to make things happen when people say that it is impossible. I love a challenge.  Helping others is so easy, and so rewarding. We support almost every sports team, religious organization, and non-profit in town and the Upper Valley. We do a monthly wine tasting, pairing with a different non-profit each month.  We began this in December 2010 and have raised over $50,000. We also have Milk and Egg Monday where customers can purchase milk/eggs that we deliver to the Upper Valley Haven homeless shelter.  Wednesdays are Pizza Wednesday and we donate $1 from each pizza sale to a non-profit.

In December 2013, I began “The 19 Days of Norwich, 1% for the Upper Valley Haven,” where we donated 1% of sales to local homeless shelter. Soon, all the businesses in town joined us. During the second year, many businesses in the Upper Valley joined us—over 100 businesses participated! In 2017, our fifth year, our cumulative total raised is over $1 MILLION!!!

 What have you learned from your work with Dismas of Vermont?

With my background in special education, we employ many individuals with special needs. In addition, we have paired with Dismas of Vermont for many years now to employ newly paroled persons. I have learned that with additional layers of support, this can be very successful. Everyone has something to offer and deserves a second chance.  We also employ homeless individuals who are guests at the Upper Valley Haven.

What advice do you have for other businesses looking to impact their community?

Think outside the box. Talk to nonprofits in your community and see how you can pair to solve issues and provide employment opportunities. Take the first step and get involved.

Dan and Whit's general storeTJ Donovan with Dan Fraser at Dan and Whit's

Dan and Whit's bottle redemption bell

TJ Donovan with George Fraser at Dan and Whit's

TJ Donovan, Dan Fraser and George Fraser standing outside of Dan and Whit's

 

Sun Protection Products and UV Exposure Risk

Enjoy the Sun, not the burnWe’ve had some nice days here in Vermont.  Though most people may not greet a sunshiny day with concern about ultraviolet (UV) protection, it is something we must be mindful about.  UV radiation comes from the sun and man-made sources like tanning beds.  The most common cancer in the United States, skin cancer, is primarily caused by too much UV exposure.  The most obvious way to avoid UV exposure is to seek shade, or cover up, but for the times that you must be in the sun, a good sunscreen is recommended.  There is no one sunscreen that will prohibit exposure to all types of UV rays.  Even sunscreen labeled with 100% SPF only protects against 99% of UV rays.

What to look for in a sunscreen:   Sunscreen

  • Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or more
  • “Broad Spectrum” on the label
  • No waterproof claims (water resistant is okay)
  • Unexpired and ideally good for at least 2 years

The sun emits many kinds of UV rays.  SPF helps to protect against UVB, which primarily causes sunburn.  But, just because you don’t get a burn, doesn’t mean your skin hasn’t encountered risky sun exposure.  The Broad Spectrum label informs that the sunscreen has been shown to protect against both UVA and UVB rays.  Sunscreen waterproof claims have been debunked by science, so, products can no longer make that claim.  They can still say “water resistant,” and must state for how long the product would continue to work after swimming or sweating.

Sunglasses can provide great protection too.  UV radiation from the sun can damage the cornea, lens, and other parts of the eye.  Cataracts can also develop from too much sun exposure.

What to look for in sunglasses:

  • Full coverage of the entire eye, wraparound, or close-fitting frames to screen out 75 to 90 percent of visible light.  Choosing larger frames can help.
  • Glasses that block 99 to 100 percent of UVA and UVB rays (may be
    labeled with UV protection of UV400 or more)

Parent and ChildWhether it’s under a tree, tarp, or behind some awesome shades and a hat, we hope you can get outside and enjoy the sunshine as much as possible this summer!

Contributing Writer: Crystal Baldwin

Sources: The American Cancer Society, Mayo Clinic

Travel Tips

If it’s time for you to escape on a getaway, keep in mind that scammers love to target those with travel plans. Vacations should be relaxing. Don’t let unexpected scams and travel pitfalls stress you out! There are countless ways one can be scammed while planning travel. With all the R & R you have scheduled, don’t get bogged down worrying about scams. This mindset is what scammers rely on to bilk you of your money.

Before travel:

  • Ask details about what is included in prices and look for hidden fees
  • If booking online, verify that you are using a credible website and double-check that you are on the correct site, rather than a copycat
  • Always do your own research before accepting the word of the person engaged in selling

While on your trip:

  • If you are notified about unauthorized credit card charges, contact your credit card issuer directly by calling the number on the back of your card. You might not be checking your statement history, but your credit card company generally understands your purchasing trends and may have fraud protection in place to alert you if they suspect an issue.
  • If you are renting a vehicle, know the ins and outs of your own auto insurance coverage. The rental agency will typically offer to sell you their insurance, so be prepared for this when you step up to the reservation desk. Protect yourself further from rental accident damage fraud by photographing the vehicle with on-site identifiers in the background (this is handy if you don’t have a date feature on your camera) both at the time of the initial rental and upon return. That way, if there is a damage dispute, you have photo proof of how the vehicle appeared while in your possession.
  • Free Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi that is not password protected could be problematic. Don’t sign into your accounts while using free or unsecure Wi-Fi. Why? You don’t know who is watching your online activity. Keying your password into an account may seem harmless, but scammers tracing your steps can log into your account later and access everything. Sure, it’s nice to have free Wi-Fi, but use it to check the news or browse tourist attractions, not to do your online banking.
  • While in a foreign country, you may be asked if you would like the total to be displayed in US dollars. If you say yes, the exchange rate may not be based on the actual currency rate, but based on the rate in the retailer’s system. The retailer receives any amount you pay over the actual exchange rate and you could be charged a conversion fee as well. Credit cards convert the foreign exchange rate based on the actual currency exchange rate, which is more accurate and doesn’t favor either party. Credit cards may also charge a conversion fee, so check the card’s terms before you travel.

While traveling, you don’t have to stress every minute about the possibilities of what might happen, but it will help to keep the above scenarios in mind so that you don’t find yourself in a stressful situation.

Contributing Writer & Photo Credit: Crystal Baldwin

Vermonter of the Month: Luke Stafford

This is a monthly series in which the Attorney General will feature a Vermonter doing exemplary work in their community. Have someone you think should be featured? Email AGO.CAP@vermont.gov.

Luke Stafford owns Mondo Mediaworks, Inc., a digital marketing agency specializing in content development for the web. He earned a BA in Journalism at Saint Michael’s College. After landing in Brattleboro with his wife, an artist, he worked in the marketing department at Mount Snow until 2009. He then founded Mondo, and in the eight years since it has grown into a 17-person shop. The company’s Values Statement is to build its surrounding community through economic development. It is proudly a certified B Corporation (“B-Corp”), which are for-profit companies that meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.

Luke also sits on the board of Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategies (SeVEDS).

How did you learn about becoming a B-corp, and why was it a fit for Mondo?

I’d been hearing about B-Corps for years, mainly from exposure to certified Vermont brands like King Arthur and Ben and Jerry’s. Because they are such large, product-based companies, I never thought seriously about our small marketing agency being eligible. One day I was explaining Mondo’s mission and values to our accountant, who operates an impact-driven business herself, and she recommended I speak to a local person who is knowledgeable on the certification process. Around the same time, a few of Mondo’s employees were learning about B-Corps. All of a sudden, it seemed doable.

Joining the B Corp movement is a fit for Mondo because, like a lot of companies, we’re run by people. And most people — or, I could argue, all people —  want to contribute  to something bigger than monetary profit in their jobs.

What prompted you to make economic growth in Brattleboro and Vermont as a whole part of Mondo’s mission?

Since I started Mondo in 2010, there was a broad values statement to “give back to the community.” We donated to local organizations and supported local events, but it didn’t go much further than that. Then, in 2015, I got my first glimpse at the data coming out of the Vermont Futures Project, which clearly projected that the Vermont economy would be in big trouble if we didn’t solve some serious problems around workforce and population. I resolved that I couldn’t sit idly by and let the projections become reality.

What impact have you had, with Mondo and independently, on your community?

Last year we paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars in salaries to Mondolians who live, shop and play in the Brattleboro area. Most of those jobs didn’t exist a few years earlier. Of course, we can’t attribute a thriving Main St. or a restaurant opening solely to new Mondo jobs, but it feels great to see new Mondolians investing in the community, whether it’s buying a house or just going to the movies in Brattleboro’s historic theatre. As for myself, I have the privilege of sitting on the boards of my local elementary school and Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategies, where I advocate for programs and policies that make Vermont the best place to live for young families.

What inspires your work, both at Mondo and in the community?

You’re going to start thinking that I’m an overly obsessed fanboy, but really, it’s Vermont. Not just the lifestyle, but the landscape, the people, the… everything. I knew I was going to be a Vermonter immediately after my first snowboarding trip to Stratton when I was 14, and I can’t imagine myself living anywhere else. Specifically, my inspiration comes from my weekend hobbies: snowboarding, logging and processing firewood from our property, maple syrup making. Lately, my best ideas are surfacing during  pop-up camper trips with my family to Vermont State Parks. The four of us are working to join the “251 Club,” whereby we visit all 251 towns in the state. We’re only about 10% of the way through, but it’s been a great way to explore the state and make memories with our 2 daughters. Check with me in 10 years to see if we’ve hit all 251.

What have you learned from this community work?

Democracy is alive and well in Vermont. I was blown away when I attended my first Town Meeting Day. It’s a very beautiful thing that everyone in this state truly has a voice. But it’s also the frustrating thing, right? Because for everyone who wants to see change, there is someone who likes things the way they are, thank you very much. When I moved to Brattleboro 13 years ago, I got involved with a committee to build a skatepark in town, thinking we’d be able to accomplish the goal within a few years. But some townspeople did not want a skatepark in the downtown area. Their voices were heard loud and clear, which I very much respect. But it means that getting things done can take a long time. In the end, though, I trust the process.

What advice do you have for others looking to impact their community?

I understand that big time commitments to boards or volunteerism is not always possible. But I would argue that little gestures, added up, have a much bigger impact. Picking up a piece of litter on the street makes for a cleaner downtown. And that clean, inviting sidewalk may be the small detail that reminds residents, “Hey, this really is a great town. I love it here.” That person will speak highly of the town to others, and the message continues to spread. Our everyday actions, and how we choose to speak about our communities, have huge consequences.

What advice do you have for businesses considering a B-corp certification?

First, it’s not easy to be certified. At least it wasn’t for us as a young company. But it spurred us to make a lot of “grown up company” decisions about our policies and standards. It took us about 9 months and we hired a consultant/project manager to get everything we needed in place. Today, we have an employee who maintains our B-Corp status as part of her job, which involves everything from monitoring our electricity usage to organizing our volunteer days. But it’s 100% worth it. Some of our best job applicants come through the B-Corp job board, and it’s a helpful distinction during the recruiting process. We regularly attend B-Corp-sponsored events, where we’ve met other B-Corps and shared ideas about sustainable ways to grow our companies. But the biggest piece of advice I could give is that your values at the company come first; if it aligns with B-Corp requirements, awesome. But stay true to your values, always.