Loco for local

One of the things I love about summer, aside from the obvious stuff like not being cold all the time, are the little roadside stands that sell fresh fruit and vegetables. The veggies all probably come from the same farms as they do for the big grocery stores, but we feel better about the road-side stands for some reason.

There’s something about stopping on the way home and picking up some fresh corn or tomatoes on the side of the road, trading actual dollars for goods that connects you with the local growers that’s different than getting the same produce from the grocery store.

There’s something even better than fresh produce at a road-side stand.  Going into a local business and having the owner know you.  Nothing says ‘Ego Stroking’ like the store owner remembering you from your last visit. 

“Hey, how did that spindle rotor work out for you?  Did you remember to torque it counter-clockwise?”

“Yeah.  It worked perfectly.  Thanks for the help.”

Wow!  He remembered me!  Now I’m hooked.

There’s a little Chinese food place near our home that has changed hands more than a rental car, but the current owners are awesome.  I’ve only bought food there about a half-dozen times in the past year – clearly not enough to even keep the lights on, but for some reason the owner knows me by name – it’s like she’s some sort of Chinese Food Savant.  Eerie sure, but very cool.

Picking up steaks at the local butcher is a total rush for me.  The power of deciding exactly which cut of meat will land on my grill and then be served to my family and friends is a total trip.  You can’t deny that choosing each cut of meat after a consultation with your butcher on what would be best for the event is much more fun than standing over one of those chest fridges at the grocery store, battling with shopping carts over a pre-determined packaged hunk of meat.

We’ve been doing some cosmetic updating in our house, and I’ve found myself picking up small items at a local hardware store instead of my usual 15 minute drive to the big box stores that have everything under the sun for any project.

It’s one of those stores that you might see in a small town, where they carry a little bit of everything – barbeque parts, household cleaners, paint, plumbing supplies, building materials, even a gift section.  I don’t know how they pack all that stuff into such a small space – you could wander the tiny store for hours, finding new items around every corner.

Today, I was in again, getting some light switch covers and I got into a conversation with the owner, who was thanking every single customer for shopping there.

“We’ve been here since 1979”, he would proudly say. “Thank you for supporting your local hardware store business”.

He only recently bought it, but he was banking on the history of the store to strike a chord with his customers. With 18 hour work days, his young children help out at the store, manning the cash register, or helping lost customers.  He’s taken only one day off work since opening last fall.  Who has that kind of work ethic?

There is a large chain hardware store coming to the neighbourhood in the next few months, literally a stone’s throw from his little business.

I’ve always been a total sucker for the underdog, and I wish this David well as he battles Goliath.

I know we sometimes complain about high prices in these convenient stores (or convenience stores), but that’s the point isn’t it?  It’s convenient, so you pay a little more.  There’s no way these ‘little guys’ can match what those big box stores sell items for, given their limited buying power and size.  The difference is, it’s helping out your neighbour and maybe giving a job to a young person just starting out.

Something else that deserves a bit of our attention are kids who are looking for simple work – lemonade stands (yes, they do still exist), cutting grass, or shoveling the driveway.

Most of the winter I’m praying for some kid to come and shovel my driveway for me!  For 20 bucks, I can stay toasty warm, save my back and legs and help a kid get healthy, and dream of one day being the next big business entrepreneur.

That’s what I call a ‘win/win’.

I’ve got nothing against large chain stores.  In fact, most of my dollars still end up there, and I won’t be cutting up my store credit cards any time soon.  They do an excellent job of offering competitive pricing, bright clean aisles, and tons of selection, but if all I need is a box of screws or a pound of hamburger, I’m going to try the local independent business first.

So, here’s a challenge to all of us.  The next time you need a bottle of ketchup for the hot dogs, or a paint brush for your home project, or have some industrious neighbour kid knocking on your door offering to clear your sidewalk, consider how in small ways, keeping things local might just be the best thing you can do.