Cambrian: Slice of Life

Shopping local isn't always easy during the holidays

Kathe Tanner
Kathe Tanner

The advice seems simple enough: Shop small. Shop local. Shop with people you know whose businesses are in your own backyard. It’s wonderful for our community economies when we all shop at locally owned grocery stores, mom-and-pop pharmacies, gift boutiques, the hardware store that’s small enough so you won’t lose your bored-to-tears kids in it while you pick out a paint color, or the little shop on the corner that stocks your favorite styles in your size, because they know you’ll want them.

We also shop at our farmers market, where at least some of the growers raise their crops in our zip code, and others are from within 100 miles or so. That’s close enough, even for a locavore, when big-box-store tomatoes can be from Mexico, the berries from Chile and garlic from China.

Shopping local all year is best, but it’s especially crucial during the holiday season. Experts estimate that’s when a retail business can make as much as 20 percent to 40 percent of its annual sales, according to the National Retail Federation.

Sadly, holiday shopping at home isn’t always as simple as it sounds.

As children and grandchildren grow up, items on their Santa lists get more complex. The gift names start with a lower case “i,” or have a monitor and keyboard. They use a dance pad, racing wheel or nunchuk, or (gasp) require a set of keys, four wheels and an engine.

Unfortunately, “shop local” stores in my hometown don’t sell those. So, much as it pains me, I have to head to the big city (or bigger town, at least) to find certain gifts at the best possible prices, because those big kid “toys” carry much larger price tags than most Lego sets or Barbie dolls — which, by the way, also aren’t available in my hometown.

(In the interest of full disclosure, Husband Richard and I also need some things we can’t find at local stores. Keffir lime leaves, a black fitted sheet or my favorite blush, perhaps.)

Even so, I was determined to do some gift shopping locally. Taking my time, I browsed, shopped and bought on the North Coast.

As always, I was impressed by how nice people are here.

Clerks, servers and other employees were almost universally polite, friendly and helpful. And no, it’s not just because they know me. They were equally courteous to people who obviously were visitors.

Sometimes, I wish good, caring employees could give lessons, or someone could invent booster shots for good salesmanship or offer smoothies spiced with niceness syrup. Because some other workers need help.

I know that being the interface with the public is not an easy job. You have to know your products and your store, be friendly, listen attentively, respond appropriately, fast and be helpful.

Above all, you have to really care and not be afraid to show it.

It can all pay off.

An example: A Black Friday flier in The Tribune listed a substantial, one-day discount on a major gift on our list. We never, ever shop on Black Friday, but those savings were just too good to ignore.

To save myself a useless trip that afternoon, I called the big-town store to ask if the item had sold out yet. Phooey! They only had one left and couldn’t save it for me, even though we were far away in Cambria. No alternatives were offered.

Frustrated but stubborn, I called a branch in another city. I explained I was now even further away and absolutely didn’t want to make the trip in vain.

The equally busy but enterprising clerk sympathized and then devised some options, one of which just might work if we got there within an hour or so!

We left immediately, arrived in time (huff, puff!) and bought the gift he’d set aside. What a relief! We repeatedly thanked to the clerk and told his boss that the friendly young man was solely responsible for that sizable sale, because he had cared enough to be helpful.

So, yes, I shop small and local whenever I can. When I can’t, it’s certainly a delight to find small-town caring in a big-city store.