One of Those Things You Don’t Really Believe Until You See…

Posting has been slow of late because I’ve been swamped with professional work. But our family did manage to get down to Amish country in northern Indiana over Labor Day weekend, for the big Midwest Tandem Rally. I’ll post more about that event later, but in the meantime had a photo to share.

We’d forgotten a few key items on the trip, so we stopped at a Wal-Mart in Sturgis, Michigan. It’s just across the state line from where all the Amish families live.

That’s when we discovered just how universal Wal-Mart’s customer base is. And the lengths to which Wal-Mart will go to accommodate its customers:

Yes, that’s a hitching post. And, yes, those are about a half dozen Amish buggies. And, no, I wouldn’t have believed it unless I’d seen it.

I realize many people have divided opinions about Wal-Mart and the merits of shopping there versus supporting local Mom and Pop merchants. For the record, we prefer to support small local merchants, too … but sometimes Wal-Mart is the best option.

It was interesting to find that even the Amish agree.

Retail

Before we moved here, I had mixed feelings and expectations about what the retail scene would be like. In my past experience shopping in some small towns, I came to believe the Norman Rockwell-esque image of the mom and pop retail establishment can be overly romanticized. I’ve been to plenty of them which are small and offer a poor selection of overpriced merchandise. And, no, many of them do not treat their employees like they are members of the family.

But we are truly fortunate to have a number of small retail establishments in the area which make us proud to “shop locally.” Some examples: the NAPA auto parts store, with the manager who jokes about my foreign cars breaking down, but who always supplies excellent advice and exactly the part I need; the feed store in Gibson City, which custom mixes locally-grown grains— and is willing to stay open longer if I’m running late and call ahead; the pharmacy, run by the same family for decades; and the True Value hardware store (run by the son-in-law of the pharmacist, as it turns out).

I could get prescriptions filled for less money at Sam’s Club. I could get cheaper (industrialized pellets) chicken feed at Farm & Fleet. I could save a little on auto parts at Wal Mart. Hardware costs less at Home Depot. And sometimes we shop at all those places, because there is a time and a place for them. But all of those places are miles away, and not part of our own community, and for the most part do not offer anywhere near the level of personalized service that our local retailers do.

This is on my mind because I had a number of things to get at True Value this morning. They’ve recently moved to a large, new building, and have a selection that rivals any store within 30 miles—but the place has the same personalized spirit that they’ve always had. The manager recognized me when I came it, smiled and said hello. When I had trouble finding something, a casheir took me right to it. In the past, when I’ve had questions about which item was most appropriate for my project, someone on their staff has always been quick to answer those questions.

You hear a lot about Wal-Mart driving mom and pop retailers out of business. Maybe that happens sometimes…but maybe some of those retailers needed some competition. Here in Paxton, though there’s a Wal-Mart down the road in Rantoul, businesses like the True Value are growing and flourishing. They’ve figured out how to offer something the big retailers can’t, and that we in the community truly appreciate. The merchandise I bought this morning cost a little more than it would have at Wal-Mart, but the whole package of what our True Value provides is well worth that money.

What season is this, anyway?

I’m not a big fan of Wal-Mart, and prefer to shop at small retailers closer to home. Someday, I’ll post more on that.

For now, suffice it to say that we do some shopping at Wal-Mart. I was at the big Super Wal-Mart in Champaign last night, looking for a variety of items. As I searched for distilled white vinegar, I had to traverse the grocery section. And there I discovered…an entire long aisle dedicated to EASTER CANDY. Yes, you read that right. Easter Candy.

I realize that there isn’t a lot of money to be made in Lenten Retail. I wasn’t expecting an aisle of fresh fish and tomato soup or anything. But give me a break! This was the day after Ash Wednesday. Easter is still over six weeks away. Are they really expecting us to stock up on chocolate bunnies and jelly beans and keep them on the pantry shelf for six weeks?

And it’s not just Wal-Mart. The Meijer across the street was already putting the Easter candy up on Monday of this week, before Lent had even begun. I thought it was a clearence rack with leftover Valentines candy. But closer inspection revealed full priced chocolate bunnies. Sheesh.

Maybe I just don’t understand retail, but it seems that something is seriously out of whack with the way this system is set up.