Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Small stores, big benefits

Increasingly, the trend moves back toward time-consuming foraging behavior, as each of us is forced to sift for ourselves through more and more options in almost every aspect of life.--Barry Schwartz, The Paradox of Choice

I heard the story once of a Russian immigrant who came to the United States some twenty years ago and was taken by a friend to one of our typical suburban supermarkets. The Russian, in the very first aisle, became paralyzed as he stared at the overwhelming quantity of merchandise and the endless choices he must make.

I feel like that man. While many of my friends love mammoth retailers such as Sam's Club for the dizzying breadth of products they contain, I don't do well in those stores. When I enter their cavernous interiors, a feeling of intimidation overtakes me. Where do I begin? How will I choose? How will I exit without spending three times what I meant to?

Small stores are the thing for me. If my small neighborhood grocery store does not have it, I might not need it after all. I can make one trip every couple of months to the Big Store to stock up on any exotic items I must have. And small stores have many benefits:
--I know the clerks. We talk. They know my children and always ask about them.
--I usually run into people I know and we catch up on things.
--These stores are close to home. I can walk for small things. For a big load I bring the car but expend very little gasoline.
--If you frequent small stores, you know them by heart. It takes no time at all to seize what you need and get on your way.
--There's less to choose from. You spend less time standing in the aisle deciding.
--There's less to buy that you did not intend to buy. No big tantalizing displays of patio furniture or camera phones.
--It's harder to lose your children in a small store, and if you do, someone there probably knows who he belongs to and comes to find you.

Shopping in independent stores brings extra benefits. They are more invested in your neighborhood and city than the chains are. A project is afoot to promote keeping our smaller, brick-and-mortar merchants alive in these times; it's called the 3/50 project. It calls for picking three independent stores you'd miss if they were gone and spending about $50 per month among them, total. Check it out here:

And sure, small stores charge a little more than the huge ones. But you'll buy less and will probably find, as I do, that your weekly receipt is no larger (and is probably smaller) than if you drove over to Big Buy and spent your time with them. Why not give it a whirl?

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