My friend Ted asked me over coffee a few weeks ago, “So now that your year is up, are you going to keep buying local?” For readers who have stumbled upon this column, I started “Live Local” as a personal test to not shop in big-box stores or on the Internet, and refrain from eating at national chain restaurants for a year. I chronicled my challenges, successes and lessons along the way right here in encore.
“Or maybe, I should ask,” Ted rephrased, “are you still doing it?”
“Well, I had an emergency and had to buy toilet paper at 2 a.m.,” I explained. “After much debate, I settled on Harris Teeter because they are headquartered in Matthews, NC. Other than that, I am still going strong.”
There have been a lot of surprises with my Live Local experiment. The first is that I spend about two-thirds less money than before on groceries when I was shopping at Harris Teeter. Now, I buy bread form Great Harvest Bead Company, and food from Tidal Creek or the farmers’ market. The quality of food I now eat has improved dramatically. Though I am not a sickly person, I have seen an improvement in my health. This came as a big surprise. Overall, it has enhanced my quality of life—physically and mentally.
My perception—along with many other peoples’, I am sure—was it would be more expensive to shop locally. Small businesses frequently beat chain stores’ prices. Though we think the stores offer more competitive rates, because they spend a lot of money on advertising to tell us so, I continuously find a local source better priced. After the fiasco with the exploding toilet in our previous location, I was stunned at the difference in price and service between Lowe’s and Coleman Plumbing Supply. Not only did Coleman have significantly better deals, they delivered the same day—for free! Plus, when I called, I got a real person on the phone who was knowledgeable about their inventory and understood my problem.
The Eisenhower era paints America as a country of people looking after each other, when “mom and pop” stores served communities in abundance nationwide.
Though it is discussed during campaigns by politicians and the populace, it seems to be quickly forgotten when offering tax breaks to send jobs overseas or purchasing new towels. I have lived in that world for the last year. I have had people deliver things to my front porch that I accidentally left on a counter at a local store (“But I know where you live, so I thought I would just drop it off on my way home!” one clerk said). I have ordered bookshelf parts that needed to be picked up a day in advance before pay and without problem. And through placing many special orders, staff members have gone out of their way to be accommodating: “When it comes, we’ll test it together to make sure it’s what you want.” Currently I run tabs at one restaurant and three stores. If something breaks, I take it back and talk with a real person about options.
Overall, my year has been full of real change. It’s an incredible improvement in my quality of life. So, to answer Ted’s question: Yes, I am still buying local. Will this column keep going? Yes! There are a lot of interesting issues to explore on the horizon.
Gwenyfar Rohler is the author of “The Promise of Peanuts: A real life fairy tale about a man, a village, and the promise that bound them together.” Available at www.OldBooksonFrontSt.com, and all profits go to Full Belly Project (www.Fullbellyproject.org).