After launching the lunchinabox.net site one year ago today, one of the most common questions I hear from people starting to make bento-style lunches is, “Where can I find bento boxes and accessories near me? Do I have to order them online and pay for shipping?” To make it easier for the lunch-packing community to share their knowledge of local stores in a common location, I hired a web developer to create the worldwide Bento Store Locator using Google Maps. This interactive map should help readers quickly find nearby stores that sell bento boxes and accessories, check out feedback from other readers, add new stores to the map themselves, and leave their own comments on individual store entries. (Like a very basic version of Yelp.com, but focused only on bento gear.)
My hope is that the Bento Store Locator (BSL?) will be a handy little tool for discovering local sources of bento boxes and accessories, potentially saving us money that’d we’d otherwise spend on shipping charges from online stores. If there aren’t any bento stores near you, though, I’ve put together an updated list of online stores with bento gear. Check back on the Bento Store Locator from time to time, as I expect the number of stores to grow as people share their finds. (Read on for details and posting guidelines.)
What’s already there?
To start us off, I’ve input the stores from my San Francisco Bay Area shopping guide for bento gear with my comments, a number of stores from the LiveJournal bentolunch community’s geographic shopping guide, some stores from French Bento’s list of bento stores in France, and a few stores I’ve recently read about on different online bento communities.
This is just a start, though — to make this really useful I’d like to ask you to share your local expertise by adding bento stores that you know about, and writing comments right in the Locator with your feedback on local shops that you’ve visited recently. Did a particular store just get in a bunch of unusual boxes or start carrying new accessories? Is someone having a sale this month? Did a store in the Locator stop carrying bento stuff, move, or go out business altogether? Let us know!
- Please try to be as precise and complete as possible when adding a new store, as I’m the only one who can edit the store listings at the moment (users will be able to edit later on, in Phase II).
- There are fields for the store name, address, phone number and website. For the website, please enter either the store’s own URL, or the URL for the store’s entry on a reliable review site like Yelp.com or Insider Pages. If the URL you want to enter is too long for the field, try deleting the http:// bit at the beginning, shortening it with TinyURL, or just add it in comments.
- Comments in languages other than English are fine, but it’d be great if you could also include a short English summary.
- Try to be constructive in your store comments, letting people know what kinds of bento gear is available at the store, and anything else they might need to know when planning a shopping trip. Signing your comments with your name would be nice, but not required.
- Edited to add: Please use the search box to check your area, not just the map’s zoom function (the BSL only displays the stores nearest to the location in the search box). Check to see if a store is already listed before adding; I’ve started to see some duplicate entries.
- Leave a comment below or e-mail me at lunchinabox (AT) gmail (DOT) com with feedback on the tool, bugs, duplicate entries, etc. and I’ll regroup with the developer to address them.
Because I’m not a web developer, I hired one to create this store locator for me, which we’ll roll out in two phases. Why did I split it up? Uh, because development time can get expensive. D’oh! Thanks to everyone for using my affiliate links to support Lunch in a Box when shopping at places like Amazon and J-List anyway; the money from those paid for this new toy!
Phase I: (No registration required to input stores or comments, but only an admin can edit or delete entries.)
- Search for stores by location, with results displayed on Google Maps.
- Readers can add new store listings with store name, address, phone number and URL info. Store URLs are not linked, so as to discourage spammers.
- Readers can add their own comments to any store detail page by clicking the “Store details and comments” link at the bottom of any store’s pop-up information bubble on the map.
Planned for Phase II:
- Ability of users to edit store details and their comments after they register and log in.
- Expanded search functionality
- Integration into WordPress (instead of using frames) to make better use of available space on the screen.
- Possible integration of online stores, enabling user feedback on each store.
- Possible store rating system (i.e. scale of 1 to 5 stars?)
- ??? (Insert your brilliant ideas here.)