Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Shopping local: service sells December 5, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 1:33 PM
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A candy shop in the 200 block of Central Avenue in historic downtown Faribault.

DO YOU BUY LOCAL?

Seems like a simple question, doesn’t it?

I’d like to answer, “Yes, I only patronize the Central Avenue mom and pop businesses in downtown Faribault and never set foot inside a big-box retailer.” But I would be lying.

I do shop at places like Walmart in Faribault and occasionally at other big-box stores 15 miles away.

However, I don’t run up to the Burnsville Center a half hour north on Interstate 35 except to shop at the next door National Camera Exchange.

That leads me to a little anecdote. Late Saturday morning my 17-year-old told me he was driving to Menards to purchase a sheet of plywood and other materials for a high school science team project. I put the kibosh on that, advising him to wait until his dad arrived home from ringing the Salvation Army bell. I thought perhaps my husband had materials in the garage that could be used to build a car ramp. (He didn’t.)

I asked my son why he couldn’t just buy his materials at a Faribault lumber yard, thus saving time and a 30-mile round trip. Students were apparently told they could get a better deal at the out-of-town big-box store.

That’s probably true if you just walk in and purchase materials. But, I wondered whether the local lumber yard had been approached by a teacher and offered the opportunity to price match.

By the time my husband arrived home, the local lumber yard was closed and there was no option except to go out of town.

A small-town lumber yard in nearby Janesville, not to be confused with the Lamperts referenced in this post.

Last year, when we were planning to replace five windows, two front doors and the siding on the front of our house, we briefly toyed with the idea of going to a big-box retailer. Instead, we bought from a Faribault lumber yard. Yes, we paid more for product. But the personal service extended to us far exceeded anything I’ve ever experienced through a big-box retailer. When we had a problem, John from Lamperts responded and solved the issue. He kept tabs on our project and was always there to answer questions and offer advice.

Service sells me on buying local. Ace Hardware in downtown Faribault is a stellar example of customer service. Walk in the door there and an attentive employee immediately greets you, asks if you need help, leads you to the merchandise and answers any questions. The place is always busy and it’s not because prices are lower. It’s the service. And the free popcorn is a nice small-town touch, too.

Burkhartzmeyer Shoes, a family-owned shoe store along Central Avenue in Faribault.

Several blocks away, you’ll experience equally great service at Burkhartzmeyer Shoes, a third-generation family-owned shoe store. The folks there will measure your feet and assure you get a perfect fit. Have special needs? Burkhartzmeyer has specialists on staff to assist. Service, friendliness, care and quality product sell this shoe store to me and so many others. And the shoebox tied with cotton string and a sucker attached is a nice small-town touch, too.

During the warmer months, I like to shop local for fresh produce at the farmers’ market,Twiehoff Gardens and Nursery, and Trump’s Orchards. Again, the friendly service and fresh, quality products sell themselves. The advice on baking squash or on choosing just the right apples for crisp are nice small-town touches, too.

Bottom line, service sells Main Street.

That all said, I, like most of you, live on a tight budget. Cost matters to me. But oftentimes, so does service.

DO YOU SHOP LOCAL? Why or why not? What would entice you to shop local more often?

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling