Is It Really So Hard To Shop Local?

I'm lazy. I hate shopping. And, I'm generally pretty busy. So when I need food, I usually go to the closest chain grocery store. When I need "stuff," it's so much easier to go to Target. It's only when I give gifts that I hit the small stores in my community looking for something unique. And because I wanted some really good chicken for a family dinner (as opposed to the rubbery variety in my neighborhood grocery store), I made an extra trip to a butcher shop I sometimes frequent.

There it was, written in chalk on the wall of the shop:

When you buy from a small business, you are not helping a CEO buy a 3rd holiday home. You're helping a little girl to get dance lessons, a little boy to afford his team jersey, and their moms and dads to put food on the table. SHOP LOCAL.

I told the butcher I liked his sign and ordered my chicken and some extra things as well. I even felt guilty we no longer eat red meat, as I would have bought more. As he cut up my chicken, the butcher lamented about how difficult it was to stay in business. He told me soon there would not be independent butcher shops. Too hard to make enough money to pay the rent.

He's right. I was the only customer in the shop. Years ago, I had to take a number and wait for someone to be free to take care of my order. Now, I have three butchers all to myself. Yes, we eat less meat, which is healthy. So maybe this is not a fair example of the demise of shopping local.

After the butcher, I went to a small store near my home to buy a gift. I knew I would find something perfect to commemorate a new home there. The prices are always reasonable and the merchandise is unique. Once again, I was the only customer. I had the attention of three clerks to help me select a $30 item. Except for holiday seasons, I have had similar experiences every time I shop there. How on earth will this store survive?

For Mother's Day, my husband and kids did shop local for my gifts, which I greatly appreciated. No, I didn't really need another necklace, more (very fun) statement earrings, or extra coffee mugs (although these were made by my grandkids, so yes, I always love a homemade creation). What made these gifts special to me, aside from the thoughtfulness of my family taking the time from their crazy-busy lives to get me something, was that they came from local stores that depend on these sales to survive.

My friends and I often lament that no matter where we go, every city has the same stores. We claim to miss the old days when Mom and Pop stores thrived and shopping meant finding something unique. Yet, when we need clothes, we are more likely to head for the closest mall. It takes some effort and time to visit the few independent clothing stores that remain. The selection is smaller, the parking can be challenging, and we are generally in a hurry to find something we can wear the coming up weekend.

There used to be a small women's clothing store I sometimes frequented. Now it's closed. I feel bad about that. There were many times I decided not to go there. I would have more choices at a department store. I wouldn't feel obligated to buy something at a place like Macy's. Unlike the small store, no one there cared. But that's just it. Now that the local dress shop went out of business, where can I go where the sales clerk does care? Where she persists in helping me find the perfect outfit to wear to a wedding or special event? Although her attentions sometimes annoyed me and made it hard to leave without buying something, usually she did help me find something I ended up liking.

I drive by that shuttered store often. I feel guilty. I'm sorry I wasn't a more faithful customer. I'm sorry I was often in too much of a hurry to take the extra time the store required. As Joni Mitchell sang in Yellow Taxi, "you don't know what you've got till it's gone." So I'm on a mission to find another independent clothing store, to go to the butcher regularly, and to continue to buy gifts and toys from the independent local stores. Despite our hurried lives, maybe we should try to find the few extra minutes it takes to shop local.

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