Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Local Yokel

Earlier this month, I wrote about the importance of supporting local businesses in an effort to preserve the diversity of our marketplace and the character of our neighborhoods. I have since put my money where my mouth is.

In exploring my neighborhood, I uncovered soft, locally milled flours at the independent health food store. I began buying my other bulk items from the grocery store owned by a local family. I scoured the downtown antique store for glass refrigerator jars and a clothespin bag. I walked to my locally owned pharmacy to turn in a prescription - and found it closed down.

The mom and pop businesses that our parents frequented are endangered species. This is an age of mass extinctions for them as well as our plant and animal species. What, we cry, can we do to save this species - the local business? Shop there. Tell your friends and family to shop there. I alone cannot save the local business. I need to convince you to help me.

It's not as simple as it sounds, though. Going local can be beautiful, unusual, sumptuous and sometimes very inconvenient.

When my downtown pharmacy went belly up, I debated going back to Walgreens with their drive through window, open 24 hours a day, and our records on file. Instead, I opened the phone book. There are not many other independent pharmacies left. I choose the closest one which is en route to a close friend's house and swim lessons and called to confirm that they would accept our insurance. They do. Then I had my doctor's office call in the prescription. The nurse called me back and warned me that "if there is any problem getting the prescription filled, call me back." Hmm, she's never done that with Walgreens. In fact, my doctor's office is electronically connected with Walgreens and all the other big box pharmacies.

In any event, we were in the area on Sunday and stopped in to get the prescription. No can do! The pharmacy is closed on Sunday. On the way to Monday swim lessons, we swung by the pharmacy again. They were open! Upon hearing my son's name, the pharmacist knew immediately who we were and what medicine needed. Unlike the dozen clerks at Walgreens, he had no need to consult a hugely alphabetized system of plastic bins to find us. He did, however, advise me to call a day before needing a refill of my son's asthma medication. They need an extra day to get it in stock. No problem. I've never had to do that at Walgreens but, because it is a regular medication, I think I can be organized enough to call the day before.

Fast forward a few days and my oldest is diagnosed with strep throat. Once again, I refer my doctor to our newly discovered pharmacy and go in that afternoon to pick up the medication. The pharmacist recognizes me off the bat and brings out my son's medication. Unfortunately, though, does not have the full 10 day treatment on hand. He has 5 days worth. I'll have to come back tomorrow afternoon or the next day to get the remainder. Now that is inconvenient. Not undoable. But damned inconvenient

Convenience isn't everything. It is, however, what has gotten us to this point we're at. Climate change, depletion, mass extinctions, pollution, toxic body burdens - all these things owe their origin to our insatiable demand for convenience. We want to travel more places and to do it faster. We want to avoid the inconvenience of seasons and ship our produce around the planet or keep the temperatures of our homes and offices carefully controlled. We demand an easier dinner, a quicker way to wash our clothes, to mow our lawn, to clean our homes.

Convenience isn't everything. I line dry my clothes but if I put them in the dryer, I wouldn't hear the birds gossip in the trees or see the squirrel hang upside down to raid the bird feeder. I cook from scratch but if we ate take out, I wouldn't have a house that smelled of caramelized onion and winter squash tart. I wouldn't have kids who called out in excitement upon discovering a new vegetable at the farmers' market, who gleefully eat snap peas off the vine, who beg for homemade bread when we run out. No. Convenience isn't much at all.

I can call my local pharmacy a day ahead for asthma medication. I can go back for the second half of antibiotics. I can plan ahead and, in case of an emergency, fall back on Walgreens. Getting my prescriptions filled at my local pharmacy won't save the world. But it is a start.


Hazel Nut said...

Ahhh, the "convenience factor". It means a lot to us working single moms but with a little time spent on planning ahead, it can be avoided. We have no family-run pharmacies anymore where I live but I do frequent the local hardware store and it's like stepping back in time. I love it. It is a bit more pricey, but the personal service more than makes up for it.
A couple months ago I repaired a dripping bathroom faucet. My hardware guy opened a package of parts and sold me just the one piece I needed at a fraction of the original cost. That wouldn't have happened at the big box store.

CindyW said...

Bravo! Convenience isn't all its cracked up to be. I understand that sometimes people are just too busy to even consider doing the "inconvenient" thing. Our culture has certainly told us that to lean the convenient way. You are absolutely right to point out we led ourselves to where we are today. For the sake of convenience, we use disposable everything; we eat fast food; we drive everywhere. But at the end, our health suffers, our living environment suffers, and our children suffer. It all accumulates into a big inconvenience that we are or will be facing.

~mel said...

My husband works in a family run small business for his father, so we know what it's like from the other side. My grandfather also used to run several local businesses in the small town I grew up in. I make every effort I can to support small, local businesses. I need to get better about telling others to do the same. It saddens me that we don't even have the choice so much of the time.

I went to a locally owned toy store the other day to look around while we were waiting for story time at the library to start. I haven't had a chance to stop in yet. Unfortunately they are going out of business. :( I did find some other shops I didn't know of in the little shopping center, so I will keep them in mind for future needs.

I don't know that there are any local pharmacies around here though. I'll have to look in the phone book. In high school I worked at the last home-owned pharmacy in my small town. All the others had been put out of business by Walgreens and Walmart. That one went out of business the year after I quit. I wonder if there will be a "movement" of some sort to bring back small businesses either through want or necessity. Would be nice!

N. & J. said...

My fiance and I have started to try to be more local with our purchases as well. We found a local dairy we could get milk from on a weekly basis. We found a small (300 sg ft TOPS) honey store that stocks local honey and beeswax among other things. The honey we got was amazing and the beeswax was cheaper than Michaels and local. The lady not only remembered us but remembered what we purchased the last time we were in there which is not going to happen at Michaels.


Burbanmom said...

Nice post, Green Bean. I've been trying to find some solid facts to support a switch to 'shopping locally for items that are mass-produced elsewhere' and this helps sway me.


Shannon Hodgins said...

I just found a family pharmacy somewhat close by and would like to switch.

I've been on the lookout since I saw the news program on how Walgreens and such can actually be quite danger. As they do a high volume the staff are very rushed and can make mistakes. The technicians may have little or not training and do not have a medical background.

Thanks for the motivation to take the plunge.

Gruppie Girl said...

I love my local pharmacy too. It is across the street from a CVS that has everything, including longer hours. Still, I go back to the mom and pop pharmacy where they know my name and say hello when they see my around town.

Kate said...

I was talking to a friend recently and she'd just been shopping in the city, she'd walked into town from her house (about 20 mins each way, if she'd caught a tram it would have been even quicker) instead of driving to the suburban shopping centre, which takes about the same time. "I have to remember that the right thing to do is actually easier than the thing that sounds more convenient" she said. Because when you shop local, it isn't necessarily less convenient. Sure you don't always get long opening hours, but when I needed fuse wire and I knew the hardware shop was closing in a couple of minutes? I rang them, they taped the fuse wire to their front door for us to pick up later that evening, and we paid them later in the week. That's convenient.

Green Bean said...

At a local hardware store, I received the most charming, warm hearted service from the owner. He spent a great deal of time helping me find what I needed, teased me about the muscles I'd get from push mowing my lawn and tried to save me money whenever he could. I'm pretty sure this would never ever happen at Home Depot - at least until this guys' hardware store goes out of business and he's forced to find a job at Home Depot.

Thanks for all the wonderful comments, personal stories and, Shannon, the frightening but not surprising information about how bigger pharmacies often mess medications up.


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