Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Last of the Congenial Shopkeeps

by Julia Buckley
There's no doubt that I can buy office supplies more cheaply at one of those big-box office warehouse supply stores where everyone wears a matching polo shirt and displays, at best, an anemic interest in me, my questions, and my purchases.

Sometimes, though, I put out the extra money that it takes to go to a little local shop. It's one of the last stores of its kind--small, personal, convivial. There isn't much stock, but what's there is interesting and unique. Usually a cat dozes among the Underwood typewriters that make up the window display. Today when I wandered in a woman looked up from her label sorting and gave a friendly smile. A man in shirt and suspenders, whose neck was warmed by a multicolor scarf that may once have belonged to Dr. Who, knew me when I came in because I was clutching my empty cartridge box and had called to reserve one of his.

"Buckley?" he said.

"That's me," I agreed. I saw a little dog in the corner; he seemed impatient to go for a walk and gave a growling sigh.

"Just a minute," said the woman to the doggie. She told me, when I asked, that the dog was a long-haired Schnauzer. He was very cute. Everything about this place was quaint, and the service from the man who immediately placed the requested cartridge in my hand was almost unsettling. It was personal. So few stores provide that anymore.

I hung around after I paid, smiling at the dog and soaking up the ambience of the little stationer's shop. "These cartridges are so expensive these days," I said. "I print out one copy of one manuscript, and the ink is gone."

Dr. Who grinned at me. "Write short stories," he suggested.

"Or haiku," added the woman.

I laughed. "I guess that's the style that fits the new economy."

They agreed, and I took my leave of them. I realized that I missed many stores like this that had once existed near me: the little hardware store which had been owned by the same man for sixty years until he had to close it down, where the merchandise was piled precariously to the ceiling; the woolen shop with exotic yarns and unusual patterns and women who offered knitting lessons; the second-hand bookstores--tons of them--that my husband and I used to stroll to on a Sunday, where cats would lie on the windowsills and mystery paperbacks cost ten cents each.

We may be saving money at the ultra warehouse stores, but we're losing out every time one of these tiny stores closes. These stores are peopled by the real thing--those who care about their products and their customers, and who serve with congeniality.


Jessica Lourey said...

What a great reminder, Julia! And I love the humor of those two. We need to frequent our small stores and pay an extra few cents more up front for an investment in our communities.

Julia Buckley said...

And even I don't go there every time--sometimes it's just easier to go to the jumbo warehouse. But I feel guilty when I do.

G.M. Malliet said...

I love their displaying the Underwoods in the window. I lusted after one of those antiques for years; finally got one as a birthday surprise.

Terri Thayer said...

I dropped a few dollars at a local quilt shop yesterday, happy to do my bit for the economy. And I was really lucky to find a cool birthday gift in my price range at a local shop, too.

Cricket McRae said...

Great post, Julia! I recently stumbled across a wonderfully quaint yarn shop in an old carriage house. Wonderful selection and very hands on service. So beautiful inside and out -- they've certainly captured my business!

Julia Buckley said...

GM--I tried to bid on one at a charity auction, but I was soon outbid. They are seen as quite a glamorous item these days, somehow. I guess people are buying nostalgia.

Terri and Cricket, how neat that you found those shops. I really do think they are important--and that includes, of course, the independent mystery booksellers.

G.M. Malliet said...

Julia - I just wish I could find ribbons for the typewriter. I'd actually use it to type envelopes.

Remember the good old days when a clue in a mystery novel could be the chipped letter "a" of the typewriter key?

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

I love patronizing the small locally owned shops and restaurants in my area. (Though sometimes, I admit, I pay a visit to Target and the like.) Not only is it good for these small business owners, but helps me feel personally connected, especially in a huge city like Los Angeles.

A husband and wife own the sushi place across the street from my apartment. Not too long ago he was on Throw Down with Bobby Flay. When I saw the show, I puffed up with pride - that's MY little sushi place! I never feel that way when I see a TGIF or Burger King ad.

Julia Buckley said...

That's great, Sue Ann! What a fun story. And sometimes these neat people inspire characters in our books. :)

GM, I know what you mean. No one wants to make outdated equipment, even if the machines in question work just fine. There's always Ebay, though--they have all sorts of old stuff.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Oh, I couldn't agree more. Whenever I go into a "big box" home improvement store, I feel so completely lost. But going to an independent hardware store is such a different experience. They ask me what I need when I walk in the door, find it for me, and make sure that I've got the right contraption for my project.


Julia Buckley said...

And it's such a refreshing difference, Elizabeth. I have a hardware store like that, too. People actually seek me out to help. :)