Do you like the idea that your friends and neighbors can have gainful employment instead of spending their days at the local branch of Work One–or worse, rioting in the streets? If so, before pressing the Checkout button at Amazon or some other online retailer, pick up your phone and call a local store to compare price and availability. You may be in for a nice surprise.
The notion that buying local costs more than buying online or from big-box retailers has such a grip on our national consciousness that few of us even bother to give locally owned businesses a chance. Some even use stores as a convenient means to check out a couch, try on a dress, or test a tablesaw before making the actual purchase online.
Who do you think your local retailers are–fat cats preying on unsuspecting rubes? Local stores charge what they do to cover the costs of being in business–rent, taxes, employee wages, utilities, and insurance, not to mention the investment necessary to keep that precious inventory on hand. Whether or not they make a profit at the end of the day, many of them–many of us–stay in business to keep dedicated employees in jobs.
An especially repugnant innovation is an i-phone app allowing instant price comparisons between inventory at Amazon and, say, Kleindorfer’s Hardware and Variety Store in Bloomington, Indiana. Standing in the tool aisle (hopefully without Brian, Andy, Victor, Scott, Geno/Luigi or Calvin looking over your shoulder–and you’d better pray it’s not Pork himself waiting on you), you can scan the product’s code and find out whether it’s cheaper online. If all you care about is getting the lowest price, by all means, buy that product through Amazon. But don’t be surprised when you next show up to check out a snow shovel or a sander only to discover that your favorite store has gone out of business due to lack of sales.
Yesterday I had the heartening experience of paying less at a local store than I could have if I’d bought online. Amazon’s best price for the sliding compound miter saw I needed: $549 plus shipping. Price at Black Lumber : regularly $549 plus sales tax, but currently on sale for $499. Heck, I would have paid the regular price or even somewhat more just to support a local business, but I was thrilled to get a bargain. Sure, I had to pay sales tax on top of this, and by so doing I made a modest contribution to some of the state-provided services I take for granted.
I’d like to see Black Lumber–family-owned since the 1920s–stay in business, along with Kleindorfer’s, Bloomington Hardware, Bender Lumber, and many other locally-owned purveyors of goods I could just as easily buy online. The people who own and run these stores are my friends and neighbors, integral members of our community. Knowing that I actually paid less by buying local in this case was the icing on the cake!