Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Friendly neighbourhood stores

I live in a small town, flanked by two larger towns. Technically, one is called a city, but city dwellers i know would consider it a town. At any rate, if i need to purchase something i can't find in my own small burg, i can usually find the object within the two flanking municipalities.

For years, large chain stores were non-existent. There were some local chain stores, yes, but nationwide chains bypassed. Within the last 5 or 7 years, two big chain stores have made their way in, sensing that they could serve the DIY market at a comfortable profit. And so arrived the Big Box hardware stores. These two giants built large, LARGE stores. They are open very early until very late nearly every day of the year. They often include coloured inserts in the local paper advertising their specials.

I frequented both of these stores at my last location, when my favourite hardware store closed because the owners retired. Unlike my favourite hardware store, I felt overwhelmed every time i walked into one of the behemoths. I often couldn't find what i was looking for without help, and even if i did find the right sort of thing, it was not always exactly what i needed. I found the sales people to be largely apathetic, although once in awhile i'd have someone nice help me. I usually had a different experience going by myself than going with Himself. Going with Himself, the sales people figured we knew what we were looking for, or if we had a question, they always answered Himself, even if i asked the question. Several times i wanted to say to them, "You didn't see his mouth move once, did you? Yeah, he's that good, able to throw his voice and make it sound like a woman's. A real talent." But, i didn't, because i knew Himself would roll his eyes, and it would doubtless underline to those sorts of sales people why i couldn't really be trusted to do this myself.

Before moving here full-time, the house sat mostly empty for nearly two years. So, one or the other of us would make a trip up every so often to check on the house, bring a carload more of stuff, and wander around. We did this jointly as well as singly. We learned from friends and acquaintances we had here where to shop for things. One friend used a local chain of hardware stores and another used a standalone hardware store. Between these two stores, we could find pretty much anything we needed for all things hardware.

Occasionally, we need something Right Away, and it's sometimes after these two hardware stores have closed. So, yes, it means a trip to either or both of the Big Box hardware stores. I still feel overwhelmed every time i walk in. Unlike the old location though, the sales people here are quite good. They talk to whoever asked the question, if they don't know, they say they don't know, and more often than not find another associate who might be able to help.

Still, i find myself going to the smaller stores because they're local businesses. No, they can't always price match. No, they're not open every single day of the year early and late. But they remember us when we walk in the door, and that is priceless.

Of the two local stores, my favourite is the standalone place. One of the employees must have been working there since the day they laid the cornerstone. He's quite elderly, totters more than walks, and is a bit hard of hearing even with his hearing aid. Yet, he's always wearing a smile when he talks to you, and insists on showing you where the whosit or whatsit is that you need.

There are two women who work there on the register, and they have helped me any number of times i've gone in looking for things. If i don't know how to use something, they take the time to explain it to me, and i've learned a lot from listening to them.

Once we realised we needed a new switch for the dining room chandelier, i wanted to go to either of the two local hardware stores to see if they'd have the switch. The smaller chain place was closed, and the standalone store was open.

I held out the old switch to the man at the cash register. I asked where i could find a replacement, as it wasn't that far from closing time. He said he'd find one in a jiffy for me, quickly returned with one that looked similar and tore open the packaging to see if it was an identical match. Nope, not quite, it was a bit smaller. Did i want to try it? If it didn't work, i could just bring it back for a refund.

I thanked him, paid my three dollars and change, and left.

Nope, it was a tad too small. The threaded part wasn't long enough coming out the hole of the cover, so the nut couldn't fasten on. Next day being Sunday, i knew both smaller stores were closed. They're open Sundays in the summer, but not always the rest of the year. So, i went to the Big Box stores. Neither had something that would work.

On Monday, needing to return my library book, i decided to stop in at the standalone hardware store to return the switch, as it was just a spit away from the library. I figured after that, i'd go to the lighting place and see if they had a switch, and if not, then narrow down which one from among the hundred light fixtures they had to be the replacement.

I had my receipt at the ready and explained why i was returning the part. The woman at the register nodded and asked if i had the original switch. I had, and showed it to her. "Hang on," she said, "I'm going to ask Nancy if we have something else."

She returned triumphantly. It looks almost exactly like the original switch. I'm hoping it will do the trick, and that it's not a 3-speed type that may not work with the fixture we have. "Not only does it look like the right size, it even costs a dollar thirty less," she said as she handed me money from the register. As i was putting the money in my wallet, she held out the receipt. "Here—just in case you need to return it."

One thing's for sure: i'm going to return there as a happy customer.


  1. Your post made my day because...I manage a small hardware/lumberyard and I used to manage a "big box" and your right there is a HUGE difference in the way folks are treated. The main reason is the small guys REALLY appreciate your business and the big guys could care less because there is always someone else behind you looking to spend money. I could go on..and on..but I won't but THANK YOU for shopping the little guys! We really do appreciate it!

  2. I love those old-fashioned shops. We had one in my UK home town of Brighton; they had everything, and nothing was too much trouble.

  3. Glad i made your day, Patti!

    I know this place made mine.