Local and informal economies

Locally owned stores are very different then big box stores. There are local people associated with them. Many of the owners live in the neighborhoods where their businesses are. They hire people from those neighborhoods; they shop in that same neighborhood and spend a disproportionate amount of their disposable income there. They reinvest capital into these businesses, use local banks, consultants, and other service providers.
~Andy Kurkuss

So I decided that I must have the new Elder Scrolls book, because I am an Elder Scrolls nut and I could barely wait to buy it, much less for the library to get it. Now, I had several options for purchasing the book:

A) I could buy it at Hasting’s down the road.
B) I could buy it at Amazon.com.
C) I could buy it from Powell’s Books online.

Had I had a local independent bookstore, I would’ve gone that route. However, the nearest independent is 45 minutes away and no longer reliably stocks new books. Amazon.com was offering the book for $9.45, and Powell’s is an independent.

However, I went with Hasting’s. A chain store. I’m pretty sure a lot of people who share my sentiments would have gone with Powell’s. I don’t mind that, Powell’s is really cool (hell, they take out full page ads in Bitch). But Hasting’s, while a chain, is a local store. They hire people I know, and some of them probably in turn support the burrito joint I work at.

Is supporting the local economy better than supporting an independent store online? Yes and no. It certainly supports the people I live around, but at the same time, also supports a massive chain store that has probably helped degrade the little independent 45 minutes away. Local stores also have more transparency. I can ask an employee there how they’re doing, if they like working there, etc. I refuse to eat at a particular fast food place in town because of the stuff I’ve heard from their employees. Amazon, and Powell’s, have no such transparency for me. I don’t know how they treat their employees, I’ve never entered their store, they’ve probably never even heard of mine.

And besides, the discount Amazon was offering? Hastings matched it. Without saying anything. Back of the book said $14.00, it rang up as $10.81. Hells yea.

But before I start comparison-shopping, I often turn to the informal economy. The economy made up off off-the-books selling, bartering, and giving away. Freecycle, Craigslist, the classifieds. Fuck buying a new bicycle, I got a fixer-upper for free from someone. I bought my “new” desk from someone else for fifteen bucks. The informal economy cuts out the middleman, supports the rehoming of used goods, is almost always local, and is cheaper. I don’t have to make as much, and there’s no sales tax, which means that much less money goes to fuel the war on our personal freedoms terror.

Win-win-win situation.

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One Response to “Local and informal economies”

  1. Dargon Says:

    While I know you are not a fan of the show, may I recommend South Park episode 809 in this case? It’s the Walmart episode.

    The local vs corporate issue is an interesting one. From a free-market standpoint, the rise of the corporate structure makes sense, what with their ability to buy in massive quantities, thus for cheaper, and thus offer it for cheaper, sometimes cheap enough that the locals would have to sell at a loss (see Standard Oil).

    The employee situation is a peculiar one as well. I’ve worked in a corporate big-box chain, and while it wasn’t horrible, per say, there were more than a few things about it that displeased me. The more corporate it gets, the more clueless asses at the top start fucking things up. My biggest beef with the corporate giants is how they tend to adhere to the “Customer is always right” policy, and thus let their “valued customers” abuse their employees as they see fit. However, they still offer employment and sometimes higher wages than the locals. Kind of a peculiar situation.

    With regards to the local stores, since they usually cannot compete in terms of price, they tend to rely on two other areas, areas that the corporate giants usually cannot even begin to compete with. Quality and customer service. It’s the local stores that tend to remember you, talk with you about stuff, help with stuff (and know what they’re talking about), help you out with stuff, etc. The problem, of course, is if the customer is willing to pay the premium the local store has to charge for their service, or if they’ll be an ass, get their help, then go buy the same product for a few dollars cheaper at Walmart. I’m also a fan of the local stores as they actually do fire the asshole customers.

    For me, I’ll support the local stores if and when I can.

    And the informal economies, I love those.

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