Buying local

Main Street, Tweed, Ont., courtesy of the more we patronize stores and other business in this and other small towns, the healthier our rural areas will be. But you knew that.

Well first of all, good readers, thank you so much for all your excellent suggestions in answer to the question in my most recent post about where to find old-fashioned window shades. You guys are a mine of information! Thanks to your suggestions, the websites of Rona, Home Depot and Sears got quite a few visits from me tonight, and our friend Phyllis also reminded me of a funky store in Montreal that should have them.

A nice view of downtown Madoc, again courtesy of a beautiful 19th-century streetscape, worth a shopping excursion!

But while it looks like online shopping (or a visit to a Sears, Rona or Home Depot store) will resolve our current need for a couple of window shades, I do feel badly that our best efforts to buy them locally (i.e. in the nearest towns, Madoc and Tweed) came to naught. We did, as you will see if you read yesterday’s post, give it our best effort, in both towns, in person and by phone. We do try to buy as much as we can for the Manse in the immediate area, and at the risk of sounding lecture-y (or like Charlie Brown’s teacher), I wish more rural residents would do the same.

Because, people, when you drive to Belleville or Peterborough or Oshawa (or the urban equivalent of wherever you may live in a rural area) to buy your groceries or your hardware or whatever, you not only burn costly fossil fuel to save maybe a few bucks, but you hurt the livelihood of people trying to make a go in business right where you live. You limit opportunities for local jobs for your neighbours. Basically, you hurt the very place where you live.

On a visit to the Manse a month or two ago, Raymond and I were in Tweed at lunchtime and decided to go eat at a restaurant we’d visited once before and quite liked, called Murphy’s Bistro – right on the main street. We were shocked and disappointed to find, when we approached the front door, a sign saying that it had closed and thanking past patrons for the their business. As we stood there in disbelief, a woman who worked at a nearby business, who was outside having a smoke, struck up a conversation. “Sad, isn’t it?” she asked. “And you know, people complain when they see empty stores on the main street, but then they drive to Wal-Mart in Belleville to buy stuff.” She made an excellent point. If we want to have healthy communities, we have to support them financially!

On our last visit, in the midst of our unsuccessful quest for window shades (and believe me, we exhausted all local options) we also stopped in at the Tweed News, which is (as the name suggests) a local (weekly) newspaper, but is also a great old-fashioned stationery store on Tweed’s main street. I am a total sucker for stationery stores and pretty much bought one of everything, and when I went to pay was delighted to find out that the guy behind the counter was none other than Tweed News publisher and editor-in-chief Rodger Hanna. (I reccognized him from photos in the local papers that week, when the Tweed News had been named co-winner of a local tourism-business award.) I was happy to introduce myself and tell him what fans Raymond and I are of his newspaper. But my goodness, the poor man doubtless works long hours all through the week to get that paper out, and there he was also manning the stationery store on Saturday morning. I am so glad we were able to give him some business and support the enterprise.

Back in September, Rodger’s newspaper ran an editorial by one of the staffers there, Lacy Meeks, on this same subject, and I liked it so much that I tore it out and kept it. It says, in part:

“I like shopping locally. I like knowing the people I’m doing business with. I enjoy chatting with store owners and their employees about their kids and where they are going to school and what sports teams they belong to. I like sharing stories about the success of local events and the plans for future ones. I like knowing that I can ask for advice on merchandise and … I will receive an honest answer …

“When you make a purchase from local stores, you are supporting businesses that in turn support the sports teams, local theatre groups, community clubs, health organizations, schools and so much more in your area. Your dollar has supported a business that employs local people. Your dollar helped make your community a better place to live, a better place to work, a better place to call home.”

You said it, Lacy! Now will someone in Madoc or Tweed please sell us some window shades?

6 thoughts on “Buying local

  1. You know, I’m ashamed of how long it took me to figure this out whenever we travelled to Sointula, where Scott’s family has a cabin. We used to load up with groceries at home and then stop at Campbell River or Port McNeill to pick up whatever we might have forgotten…and never darken the door of the Sointula Co-op. Oh maybe if we had a last minute requirement for chocolate chips because we HAD TO HAVE chocolate chip cookies, but that’s about it.

    Thankfully we’ve seen the light and we now patronize it regularly. The cashiers recognize us and most of them even have our co-op number memorized. They don’t even looked particularly concerned when a certain 4 year old boy trails me around the store asking for root beer because “…it’s my favourite kind of beer!”

    • There is so much to be said for knowing the people from whom you’re buying stuff – and you get a good feeling from knowing that you shopping there is good for their job security. A clerk named Sally (I know from her name tag) at the Home Hardware store on the main street of Tweed had been very helpful over multiple visits as we’ve searched for household stuff that we needed for the Manse. My favourite Tweed Home Hardware moment was when another customer, clearly a regular, asked her, “You still got that mustang, Sally?”

      I think it was a joke she’d heard before, but she gave him a friendly smile anyway.

  2. Because I have a very big interest in your topic of buy local I hate to say I knew this was coming. Sorry to hear the Bistro did not go well. I have lived my whole life in self employment of family run businesses. Whether it is the public service industry, hair salon’s, construction contracting, plumbing contractors, or machine building, not to mention working in customer service. Don’t expect to make it. And keep your overhead low. Do your work well, offer good quality but at a resonable price (which is very hard to do) in small town & owe nothing to no one! I have wanted to always purchase local, but it is hard when you can not even buy a item that is listed in the local flyer from a local dealer. They could order it in for you. But you have to wait a few days. In the meantime your back in a big city. Why wait. Or the cost of a vegetable produce is twice that you would pay in a box store. One rule we had at the Canadian Tire in Madoc when it was there we were to have 3 of everything in the flyer. We won the most sales one year in all of Canada for the size of our store. And recieved a nice reward for our hard work. But we offered the supply for the demand. I think the secret is do not aim for the sky when you can not get your feet off the ground. Offer the best, do the best, be honest, the rest will follow. There is no price on a SMILE! Hope you find your shades near by but I think you might have to travel a little further.. Do you think coffee & draperies would go well together? lol

    • I would love to be able to buy window shades (and lots of other things) while enjoying a nice coffee! Your words of wisdom to small-business owners are excellent ones. And believe me, I know how hard it can be – as someone who was in the small-town bookselling business just as Amazon was coming along. (I wonder if that café needs a book corner!)

  3. While gasoline remains cheap [relative to individual earning power] and roads very passable, the trend to shop at more distant markets [ie, Belleville, Peterborough] will continue to persist. This phenomenon was responsible for the disappearance of general stores in tiny hamlets such as Queensborough, Cooper, Actinolite, Eldorado, Bannockburn, Crookston, etc during the 1980s & 1990s. The same process seems to have since spread to many towns

    • I wonder, though, whether people will start to rethink their habits. Gas is getting more expensive, and also, the buy-local and eat-local movements really seem to have some traction, in Hastings County as elsewhere. One thing we want to do with the new Queensborough website is have a local business directory, where people can find out what kinds of goods and services they can buy right in the immediate area. Obviously it’s easy (as long as you have a car) to travel to a larger centre to shop, but for your own community it clearly doesn’t pay to do so. I continue to look forward to the day when there will be a shop with items for sale (and coffee!) in Queensborough, because – it’s a start!

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