Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Shop Local and Indie online

I feel like it’s my duty, now more than ever, to shop at local and indie online stores. Hey, everybody loves a deal—I’m certainly no exception. But small stores don’t keep their prices higher because they’re greedy. In the case of an indie boutique, the small markup on gifts and apparel, combined with the fact that they aren’t able to purchase in the same kind of bulk as a larger store, make it difficult, if not impossible, for a small store to compete with the sort of prices a big-box or chain store can pull off.

The ‘value’ isn’t in the price of the blouse or toy or gadget, though: it’s in what a neighborhood boutique/gift store has to offer a community.

I know how easy it is to take a small-town bookstore, toy store, or gift shop for granted: sure, they’re great for popping into when we’re taking a leisurely stroll through the downtown strip, but is it the first place that pops into our heads when we get an itch to buy the latest bestseller or a gift? If not, why not?

I can already hear the arguments from dissenters: why should I buy that book, toy or knick-knack for full price when I can get it cheaper down the road? What have small stores got to offer that large ones don’t, less expensively, until late at night, seven days a week, and with a huge selection of coffees to boot? Don’t you believe in capitalism? (And of course, with the economy the way it is: but I can’t afford to buy stuff full-price!)

Perhaps you don’t really care if your town has thriving independent stores, in which case you may not understand my logic. But I buy my family’s books—and anything else I can get, from groceries to paint—in town whenever I can because I value living in a community where I can buy household goods without having to drive to a strip mall ten miles away.

As for what a small community bookstore, toy store, or gift shop has to offer? For a start, the fact that the owners and employees recognize me and my family when we walk in the door, have actually purchased—and formed an opinion on—most of the items on their shelves, and add vitality to a business district—all of which are worth more than a discount to me. And yes, I believe in capitalism, which in my mind means making purchasing decisions based on what product or service has the best value—not necessarily which one is the cheapest.

To me, it’s about more than trying to save a few dollars on this toy/gift or that book. It’s that I don’t feel like I can afford to live in a place where indie stores don’t exist. What would our cities and small towns look like if they all went away and all that was left were strip malls?

Don’t get me wrong—larger stores can have their place. Sometimes, a 10 PM bookstore trip is a necessary sanity-saver at the end of a busy day. And once in a while, I like to wander around rows and rows of books and magazines, just to see what’s out there.

Of course, having been broke…really, really, really broke…since last years layoff, I understand that you can’t spend more than what you have. For people in that position, I really understand the dilemma and figure you do what you can. But there is a whole segment of the population for whom “value” has come to mean “how much stuff can I get for my money”, not “Could I do with fewer things so that I can invest a little more in what I value?"

Neighborhood shops, especially my beloved indie boutique (I hope you’re lucky enough to have one in your community) are more than just places to buy things. They’re part of the community: a place for adults to get to know their neighbors. I support them because I want that kind of store to be around, for me, for a good long while.

And of course, I shop there because I want them to be around for my kids. Can I really afford not to?

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