A walk through the neighborhood
Virtually everyone reading this column is aware of the benefits reaped by the local economy when we buy our goods through locally-owned small businesses. The big box corporate retailers, of course, take their profits back to their headquarters in...
Virtually everyone reading this column is aware of the benefits reaped by the local economy when we buy our goods through locally-owned small businesses. The big box corporate retailers, of course, take their profits back to their headquarters in distant lands much like the old East India Company of the colonial days.
Though this is common knowledge, these retail powerhouses continue to thrive and grow over the hill from Duluth, as evidenced by the soon to be constructed Super Wal-Mart in Hermantown. Clearly people in our area need to get the best deal they can to survive on our small incomes, and this is understandable. However, I would like to encourage the use of local businesses for what they can do for you, and not as some sort of charity.
I live in lower Lakeside in Duluth among homes just oozing with character that are between 80 and 100 years old. It is a pleasing walk through this old neighborhood with children playing on every block and among the enormous maple trees pushing up sidewalks as they provide ample shade. Within a half-mile of my house I am able to purchase a fair amount of my household's necessities and run a few errands.
My favorite stop is Marshall Hardware, which has a surprisingly large selection. I get amazing service at this 68-year-old fixture in the community. The staff greets me by name, and they are experts in just about everything.
I walk in there with a befuddled look on my face and tell them I need some sort of round dealio to fit over the oblong thingamajig to take care of such and such, and they lead me to the exact location of said obscure object. Knowing I am short on money, they tell me that an inexpensive option will work fine for what I need.
I constantly go there for help with problems in my aging fixer upper, and when I moved here I wasn't handy at all. As each project has presented itself they provide me with loads of free advice without any condescension while helping me find what I need in 10 minutes or less.
Time is a valuable commodity. It is not always necessary to drive up over the hill for the pleasure of fighting crowds while aimlessly pushing a massive Hummer-sized shopping cart through aisles bursting with merchandise towering over my head.
Instead I promenade through our enclave to the beat of my own self-satisfaction for single-handedly saving Duluth's economy and the future of our neighborhood businesses. Heck no! I enjoy the short stroll to get what I need and get home with enough time left on a Saturday to get my project done and still spend some quality time with my family.
Furthermore, in that big box hardware you inevitably spend more money as you fill that cart up with more basement fodder than you need. The drive home then provides time for buyer's remorse and stewing in grumpiness. When I leave the local hardware, in contrast, I have an inevitable smile on my face. My dog also departs with a smile because they give him some love and a tasty treat.
If there are only about four Saturdays a month, why in the world would you spend them in your car driving to distant retailers receiving what is seemingly the worst service possible (only to have it bested the next time you go)?
Returning to our walk, 75 feet to the east brings us to the post office which has been staffed by the same friendly gentleman for many years. A quick saunter from there allows us to pick up some necessary items at the pharmacy, rent a video, and buy a couple yummy donuts for a price disproportionate to the pleasure they provide as we continue on our stroll. Shucks, there's even a home and garden gift shop, barber shop, chiropractor, Sammy's Pizza, and several other small businesses down there on Superior Street.
The best part is that while we get some necessary shopping done, our family enjoys a nice walk together. We return home in high spirits as we had the opportunity to enjoy our community every step of the way. I'm also convinced that we spend less money because we buy what we can carry between us and stash in the stroller.
I have always considered the option of living in the country to be ideal, but living here these last couple years is
slowly causing me to reconsider. It is wonderful to be a part of an outstanding community blessed with nice neighbors and a variety of welcoming small businesses.
Most of us are not going to stop patronizing the big boxes cold turkey. That's fine. Please consider enjoying more of your local businesses though, because they offer you the savings of time, torture, torment, and occasionally even money. These places are run by people who enjoy their customers and are passionate about what they do.
I have a feeling that for most folks an enjoyable day off from the salt mines doesn't include an hour of driving around and several more fighting a sea of strangers as you all race each other to check out lines as if they were so many toll booths.
Eddy Gilmore is a freelance writer, father of twins, and husband of one. His column appears monthly in the Budgeteer. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org .