I might as well tell you up front -- I am a dyed in the wool bigot in support of small business. While I concede that big box retailers provide lots of jobs and shopping convenience, I long for the days when our neighborhood offered
- two independently owned drug stores in town - Knapp's and Dzurik's
- six(!) different car dealers (Connelly Chrysler-Plymouth-Dodge, Whitherspoon Ford, Monte Asti Buick, Gourley Chevrolet, Mackay Cadillac and Ascot Imported Cars
- Two hardware stores
- Murphy's 5&10
- Isaly's, coffee shops and Lerza's Restaurant
- Sewickley Theater, run by the stoic Mr. Wheat
- Burton's Men's Store & Gusky's Women's Store, Tots 'n Teens
- two grocery stores (Select Food Market and Safran's--and A&P before that)
- My absolute favorite -- Mr. Wallace and his bike shop. He was the go to guy whenever a kid had a problem with their bike, and half the time he'd fix it for free and send you on your way.
Ok, so I know I'm just being wistfully sentimental and that "progress" long ago sounded the death knell for the "Pleasantville" of my childhood. Still, I find it oddly inconsistent that big box retailers and chain-store outlets are forced to boast about their customer service (that is, when price wars alone won't work) when small town business owners knew what service meant long ago. When the person behind the counter knows your name and the names of your kids, that's customer service. When you could actually call your neighbor the pharmacist at home if you needed a prescription that couldn't wait and they would solve your problem, perhaps with a groan or two, but they knew that you would never think about using a different drug store, that's customer service. I think you get the point.
Here's my prescription: Next time you find yourself on the way to the mall or one of the national (or even global) retailers, drive through a small town like Sewickley, Coraopolis or Ambridge to see if what you need could actually be purchased locally. It may cost a bit more, but value isn't only a factor of price. Then take two aspirins and call me in the morning...