I wrote this a couple of years ago, when my grandfather was in the hospital for the very first time, and he and I spent quite a bit of time together.
My grandfather running a grocery store, a few years before he opened his own hardware store.
My grandfather owned a hardware store for several years. He built it literally from the ground up, building and all, and took it to great success. His brilliant idea was to make a self-serve hardware store, where people could peruse the aisles and pick out what they wanted. It’s standard now, but that was unheard of at the time.
His hardware store was very successful for about six years, until the idea caught on and bigger national stores moved in near his store. Quickly recognizing that he couldn’t keep up with “price gouging” of the big chains, my grandfather moved his store to a small nearby town that didn’t yet have a hardware store. That town still had gravel streets and only a few businesses. If any of you are familiar with the Seattle area, that small town was Bellevue.
So my grandfather sold his hardware store within a year of moving it, and stayed on for a year to help the new owner learn how to run the business. And then, as my grandfather says, “there’s always something new, always someone willing to give me money to feed my family.” He moved on to build a Savings and Loan literally from the ground up, and eventually expanded it to several regional franchises. Several years later he recognized that he had ridden that train as far as it could go, and moved on again. I mentioned earlier that that was in the late 70s, which was just a few years before the S & L scandals of the 80s that brought that industry to its knees. But now I’m just bragging about my grandfather’s good business instincts!
Today he and I lamented at how few mom and pop stores remain in our consumerist world. When he ran that hardware store, my grandfather loved helping people build their houses, and he worked hard to cater his store to his customers’ needs. Sure it was a business, but he also considered it a personal, community service.
I believe the disconnect between the past system of personal service and the current system of corporate greed is a part of why seniors have such difficulty navigating the world today. Just opening the mail is difficult, as so much junk mail looks like an official document (sometimes “official document” is even stamped on the front). When seniors learned to navigate through the world sixty or eighty years ago, “official document” meant something. Service truly had the individual’s best interest at heart.
I currently live in a town with a couple of mom and pop stores left. And some of those stores do still have an individual’s best interest at heart. But those stores are still slipping away into nothingness due to “price gouging”, as my grandfather calls it. By supporting the large international chains to save a bit of cash, we are paying the price in other ways: we’re losing those individual interactions between community members, that special service, the unique items you don’t find in large stores, and the support of our local economies.
So, if you’re going to purchase a Christmas gift or two this season, I encourage you not to fall into a trap of price gouging, and really pay up front what an item is worth. Support a local mom and pop or boutique store to ensure that they stick around and continue to bring uniqueness, income, and service to our communities.