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

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Appreciating mom-and-pop businesses like Mutch Hardware June 27, 2011

Buildings across the street reflect in the windows of Mutch Northside Hardware in North Mankato where these signs hang on a front plate-glass window.

“Grass Seed and Fertilizer.”

“We cut glass and plexiglass.”

I didn’t need grass seed or fertilizer or any glass cut. Yet, the signage drew me to the storefront plate-glass window of the hardware store along Belgrade Avenue in North Mankato. How often do you see business signs like this with letters printed in near-perfect penmanship between two penciled ruler lines on white tagboard?

After I admired the simplicity of this advertising in a world of mass-produced, flashy, signage, I noticed the old screen door. That did it. I was smitten with this place, this Mutch Northside Hardware that, from the exterior, reminded me of the small town hardware stores of my youth.

You know, the kind of store where you can buy everything and anything. The place packed with merchandise from floor to ceiling, aisles narrow as a sidewalk crack. Nails and bolts jumbled in scarred cubbies. Belts dangling from hooks on pegboard. Wooden floors that creak.

Mutch Hardware is crammed with merchandise, some of it displayed in the window fronts.

An old ACE Hardware sign decorates the front door where a handwritten sign is posted listing store hours.

I could almost hear the vintage screen door slam shut behind me as I stood outside the closed hardware store, hands cupped around my eyes, peering inside. It was late Saturday afternoon and I was hours too late to step inside Mutch Hardware, much to my disappointment.

But that didn’t stop a flood of memories from washing over me. Memories of going to town with my dad, stopping at Joe Engel’s Hardware store on Vesta’s main street to pick up a few bolts or maybe a belt or something else for the farm.

My siblings and I had another reason for hitching a ride to the southwestern Minnesota hardware store with our dad. Joe Engel’s supplied our ammo—coiled rolls of red-perforated paper pocked with gun powder for our toy cap guns. This was the 1960s, and even though not politically-correct today, an era of playing “Cowboys and Indians.” I remember those days with a depth of fondness that I doubt today’s tech-oriented kids will ever experience.

I would like to take each of them inside a business like Mutch Hardware, where I expect helpful, personal service, care and friendliness accompany each purchase. Places like this seem rare in our fast-paced world of big box stores run by corporations in far away cities. Few mom-and-pop stores can survive in today’s economy. That is reality.

I’m not a prima donna; I shop chain stores as much as anyone. Yet when I see a business such as Mutch Northside Hardware in North Mankato, I take notice. I appreciate the hardworking men and women who, as independent business owners, still offer us a shopping option.

Outside Mutch Northside Hardware, a place reminiscent of bygone days.

DOES AN OLD-FASHIONED mom-and-pop type business like Mutch Northside Hardware exist in your community, or do you know of one somewhere? I’d like to hear. Tell me about it by submitting a comment.

This image of a section of Belgrade Avenue in North Mankato shows the following businesses, from left: Like-Nu-Cleaners, Christy's Cafe, Mutch Northside Hardware, Skillings & Associates, Dino's Gourmet Pizzeria, Craft-n-Floral Center, the U.S. Post Office, Frandsen Bank & Trust and Bobby Joe's Pub.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling