I wrote the article below for another blog on January 25, 2006. The theme of shopping locally has been called more and more to my attention lately. Friends just started a new project called Unchained in America. They plan to spend a year avoiding shopping with the big guys and to share their experiences and discoveries. I'm already envious of the wonderful small restaurants they've found along the way!
Another project that was brought to my attention through a Ravelry group is the 3/50 project. This is a simple idea, asking the American public to spend just $50.00 a month in three locally owned independent businesses. it's not a lot to ask, just $50.00 split between three businesses.
My recent experiences with a business that has just gotten too big to handle the needs of its customers is a third reason I've been thinking about the shop locally theme. This business, which my grandfather called "SearsnROEbuck" has been around for a long time. Trusted by generations. My grandmother swore by Sears...a couple of weeks ago I was reduced to swearing at Sears.
I don't really think it's the fault of the company. Everything is just getting too big, and too centralized. Why should a giant company care about customer service, when no one in the company, except for a low-paid sales staff, ever lays eyes on a customer? In talking with customers and going through life day-to-day, I see so much need for connection in people. I think this is something that small business can step up to the plate and give. Great customer service, friendly smiles, and taking the time to listen to customers beyond their needs in the shop is something a small business can do.
Getting off my soap box now. The cat picture? He's just here 'cause he's pretty!
Written on January 25, 2006:
I don't do much shopping. At least, not for recreation. My dad and I live here alone, and our needs are pretty simple. But this past week I wanted a lot of odds and ends because of putting together displays for my booth and because of other things that happen occasionally on the farm. One day last week the pump in the spring house quit. The drive band on my spinning wheel broke. And I needed hardware for the displays.
The nearest 'box store' is 40 minutes from here. Naturally, all the things I needed weren't required on the same day. With gas prices the way they are, I estimate that each trip to pick up a needed item would have cost about $7.00 round trip with my economical little pickup. I don't enjoy either burning up money, or the time it would take to travel to the nearest town. I do enjoy a trip every couple of weeks to town to have lunch with my favorite cousin, and that's when we do our 'big' shopping. We really make that trip count; with recreation and necessities combined.
The pump needed a switch, so I called a local hardware store and ran to pick it up. Ten minutes down the road and maybe $1.25 in gas. I tried to make do with the drive band for the spinning wheel with a nylon cord that I had here, but that didn't work. So I walked to the local store to pick up some cotton string, which has been working perfectly. A couple of days later I walked up there again, to pick up the hardware I needed for my booth displays. The fabric I wanted for a screen was available at another locally owned shop twenty minutes away. On that trip I combined grocery shopping and banking with the fabric purchase.
Over and over again I hear people talking about running to a chain store. I know people that go several times a week. Around here that's quite a trip. These people think they are saving money; a widget at Wal-mart costs less than it does at the store here in my little community. But if I buy the widget at my local store, I'm not only supporting my neighbors and adding to the local economy, I'm saving very expensive gas. It's long past time in this country that we started thinking about shopping locally.
I'm probably luckier than people in some areas; the little stores in my community are operated by women that are talented in buying and we have a tourist trade that helps keep the stores open and available. Fresh produce, meat from a local butcher, groceries, a deli and bakery are all within walking distance for me. One store has an extensive hardware section and there's even a little greenhouse and they sell garden seeds. Even though we have a tourist trade, none of these shops would stay open if the local community didn't support them. As time goes on and I find the trends in big business more and more disturbing, I tend to spend more time and money in the local shops and small businesses in my area. Since my own business is small, it makes sense for me to support the local economy as much as I can.
And it's fun to go into a shop and know everyone there, to be greeted by friendly faces and interesting talk. Our shopkeepers pay attention to the needs of their community, and keep items available that are needed, interesting and sometimes unusual. Prices are only a bit higher than the chain stores, but the convenience is more than worth it to me. And I know that my dollars are benefiting my local community instead of some impersonal big business with a dubious reputation.