Years ago, one of my favorite bookstores was at University Village. This was long before U Village became the high-end attraction it is today. The outdoor mall was small and funky then, and I sometimes stopped at Kay’s Bookmark between meetings with clients. Kay was friendly but not intrusive, highly knowledgeable, and loved books. Then Barnes & Noble moved in. Next door. It loomed over me every time I went into Kay’s. It had the density and gravity of a large planet, and I felt the pull of it, but walked past a front door that I never entered. Until …
One of my customers was an expert sailor, and he’d been hired to sail someone’s boat from somewhere in Italy to somewhere else in Italy. It was a job he agreed to do on the fly and with zero advance preparation because it gave him an opportunity to do something he’d always wanted to do. When I visited on the day he got the job, he expressed concern about finding a nautical chart before he left, this before the internet existed. Hoping to help, I headed directly to Kay’s. She and I scoured the shelves. She was sure she had a Mediterranean nautical chart somewhere, but it eluded us. She could order one, though, and she’d have it in a couple weeks, which was not soon enough; so I thanked her for her help, left the store, and turned away from Barnes & Noble, walking all the way around the mall so I could enter the doors on the north side, unseen by Kay. They had what I needed there and I hated them for it.
In a case of what goes around, comes around, Barnes and Noble would later be overwhelmed – much as Kay was within a few years – by a business called Amazon. And it was local as well.
So what makes a business truly local? It’s hard to say. If you’re offended by ubiquitous chains and big box stores, remember that they employ local people, and local sales reps call on them to sell bags and tissues and other products necessary for running their businesses, and those products are pulled from warehouse shelves by local people and delivered by local drivers.
It’s a big, messy business world out there, and trying to perfectly fulfill the desire to buy local is almost impossible. although I can almost guarantee you that small, divey bars are likely local, which is why we fervently support them.
November 27, 2023