I wrote this over a year ago, and wanted to share it with you because as I walk around my neighborhood, I can see signs that neighborhood business owners are stressed during these difficult economic times.
My grandfather worked several jobs over the course of his life. During the Depression he was a fireman, and also worked as a grocery store clerk (above). For years he saved his money and finally opened his own hardware store, just down the street from his home, where my dad grew up. 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.
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.
There are a few mom and pop stores left in my town – maybe in yours too. 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 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.