Whenever possible, Ken and I buy everything from tortillas to Trollope novels from stores within about a three-mile radius of our home. We get paint and primer from my main man Pablo at a Sherwin Williams three blocks away; I’ve almost entirely sworn off Amazon.com in favor of a nearby used bookstore; and a couple of times a week we pick up flowers, condiments and cheese at a little Trader Joe’s just down the road. As a result, we know “our” sales clerks and checkers, and feel more comfortable about supporting the companies we do business with.
We were both thrilled to find out that Pablo’s likely to be promoted — he’s a great, levelheaded kid, and deserves the best. We’re also glad that the company that supplies our paint has recognized and rewarded his skills.
Bookman’s is a local chain I’ve visited since I was a child with a 12-book-a-week reading habit and no allowance; I went to college with one of the clerks there, and I’ve often bantered with the buyers about what I’m selling. (The Book Stop has been around longer and has a more peaceful ambiance — no musical instruments for sale here — but they moved to a shopping district with little parking, so I almost never get to discuss Latin textbooks with the woman who has rung me up since I was almost too small to see over the counter. Alas.)
Trader Joe’s hires friendly and efficient people, and keeps them happy. Bantering with them over my groceries is a pleasant weekly ritual. I often pick up on whatever the previous customer was discussing; last weekend, it was cats versus dogs. Now, I am a confirmed cat person, and Ken has come around after a few months of suspicion. I started off just by stating my preference.
“Dogs require a lot of attention — I like a pet I can leave overnight.”
The clerk, a brisk-talking, fast-bagging woman about my age, said, “Well, you can’t beat dogs for friendliness.”
“True. And you know, with cats you do always have the feeling they’re doing this cost-benefit analysis and deciding whether to trip you and eat you when you fall down the stairs.”
She laughed. “You know, dogs will eat you, too.”
“Really? I had no idea.”
“Oh, yeah. Certain breeds are notorious.”
Genetic variation among dogs is so radical that certain breeds will probably play piano and commit securities fraud — but eating their owners? “Which ones?” I don’t plan to get a dog, but this seemed like important information to have. By now she was handing me my change and receipt.
“Poodles. Poodles are supposed to be the worst.”
“Figures,” I said. “Devoured by poodles.”
We wished each other a good weekend, then she was onto the next customer.
I ask you, could you learn something like that in the checkout line at Target?
We could be a lot more puritanical about how we shop — limit ourselves to the Farmer’s Market and Community Supported Agriculture, for example, or swear off even local chains — but I think we’ve come up with a good compromise. We go to big box stores when we have to, but we prefer small, nearby places, and always check out a local business when we can. We focus on places that don’t insult us with loyalty cards or insist that we follow them on Facebook. And in return, we’ve learned the truth about poodles.