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One of those small, everyday moral dilemmas

What would you do?

The upstairs room needs a new floor. It’s going to be laminate.

I’ve found exactly the flooring I want for $1.89 per square foot at a tiny family-run business in my town.

Obviously, there are cheaper laminates. And more expensive ones. But this is a good product at a modest price and it’s the type that already has the underlayment attached. So not bad. I’ve looked for it online and, once you factor in shipping, the local price is competitive.

But. I can drive 90 miles to a chain store and get the same stuff for much less. Even after I factor in the cost of fuel, I’d save $100 by going to the chain store. A hundred dollars is a lot of money to me. I have the free time to make the drive. I can combine the drive with other money-saving errands. I can go with a friend, who’ll chip in for gas. The flooring job is borderline too costly for me and being able to save $100 feels like the difference between “should I or shouldn’t I redo the floor?”

Economic realities all say go to the chain.

But. The local store was scheduled to close its doors four months ago. That would have been a terrible loss to the community, which has been fading for years and has very few businesses beyond the grocery-store-and-bank minimums. At the last minute, a new family bought it. They’re nice people who’ve been super helpful to me. They’re knowledgeable. They work like Stakhanovites. They’re also like deer in the headlights, wondering what they’ve gotten into by buying a dying retail store in a dying town.

All the human factors say buy from them.

I’ve talked at length with them about the situation. They say they’ve given me the best price they can, and I believe that. We all acknowledge the realities of doing business in a small, off-the-beaten path community. They say they totally understand if I choose the chain store instead. They also say they’d carry a few hundred dollars of the purchase for a month or two, if need be.

What do you do?


  1. The Warning
    The Warning April 7, 2011 7:32 am

    Market theory is telling you to go to the chain store.

    Don’t question the market.

  2. Claire
    Claire April 7, 2011 7:39 am

    Thanks for the quick reply. I don’t question the market. But I also ask what kind of community I want to live in.

    I’m not usually one who rants “BUY LOCAL!” even when that means paying inflated prices. (In fact, that always strikes me as a form of blackmail.) It’s not about loyalty or anything like that. It’s about the environment I want to live in and the kind of neighbors I want to live among.

  3. It's Me
    It's Me April 7, 2011 7:44 am

    $100 is quite a bit, but I wonder if this might be a case for using $100 over X number of years (however long the floor will last) isn’t that big of a deal, even though it’s a hardship right now.

    I try not to use credit cards, but in this kind of case maybe?

  4. Sam
    Sam April 7, 2011 7:46 am

    Hi Claire. Your first responsibility is to yourself, duh. On the other hand what makes a small town good is the people and businesses there. When we do not patronize the local businesses we are killing our own town, and in fact, hurting ourselves long term. A nice little town today is a crappy and unfriendly place tomorrow. You chose to live there, I say you ought to pay the piper.

  5. Joachim
    Joachim April 7, 2011 7:59 am

    Support your chosen community and your local business folks.
    Have a quick sale on some of your books and raise the $100.
    Make it a win-win-win for yourself, the local business, and your readers.

  6. Claire
    Claire April 7, 2011 8:00 am

    I knew I’d get wonderful comments. Sam, It’s Me — good points.

    “Your first responsibility is to yourself.” Yes. You’ve articulated something that I did not. My first responsibility is to myself (and no “duh” about it; how many people forget or never learn that?). And the real question here is which choice best fulfills that responsibility.

    I also agree this might be one of those situations where credit could be useful. The new owners aren’t set up for credit cards yet, but it’s also something we’ve discussed.

  7. Claire
    Claire April 7, 2011 8:00 am

    Joachim — great idea. πŸ™‚

  8. EN
    EN April 7, 2011 8:31 am

    This isn’t a moral dilemma, there would be nothing immoral either way. Being a strong independent woman who doesn’t like pink we know you’ll make the decision based sentimentality. You’re not going to save this business but you can save $100… but you won’t do that, will you?

    I live in small town that was thriving up until three years ago. Now it’s not so good. But I can tell you that getting a Walmart and Home Depot had a lot of people up in the air at the time. However, they saved me Tens of Thousands over the last 20 years. HD was going to drive Orchard supply out of business, but they already drove Mundorf’s Hardware out of business 20 years ago and I heard the same BS about the community then that I heard when the “bigger” boys showed up. Of course Mundorf’s came in and build a new store down town in the 1940s and drove Miners Supply out of business. But hey, ride the train if it makes you feel better.

  9. -s
    -s April 7, 2011 8:31 am

    It’s not a moral dilemma. Not to nitpick, but either choice is perfectly moral, perfectly ethical. You aren’t doing anything wrong no matter which vendor you select.

    It is a choice. You are faced with a tough decision, where it is hard to determine what best satisfies your desires. As you say, $100 is a lot of money. You have other desire that could be satisfied with that money. On the other hand, you also desire a nice town, and for you, that includes local merchants. There are many other factors to consider.

    There’s no right or wrong here, just some tough calculation about values and priorities, and future consequences, both long and short term. You can’t know the future, all you can do is estimate what is most likely to happen.

    Speaking strictly for myself, I would go to the big box and spend the $100 saved locally. That satisfies both of my desires.

    I’m not as worried about the fate of the local flooring store. I’m sure they are nice people, and don’t doubt that they work hard. The fact is they simply cannot compete with firms who are much better at providing goods at low prices. Rewarding them is to reward a degree of inefficiency; that doesn’t advance your goals.

    I very much doubt that in the long run, your decision to purchase from them or not will determine their fate. Based on your description, their fate is probably already determined; at best you might postpone things for a tiny bit of time. If that’s something you feel is important, spend away.

    But I think you can support local merchants who offer things the big box stores cannot, even if it isn’t these particular folks.

    Good luck. Rest easy, it’s a tough choice, but at least you are free to make it. Freedom means you can try to satisfy your desires, it doesn’t mean that your choices will always prove correct.

  10. Pat
    Pat April 7, 2011 8:57 am

    Under the circumstances (your money), I think you should buy from the chain store.

    But… how bad do you NEED that floor right now? Sounds like you want more than need it, you just don’t want to miss out on a good deal at this time. Spruce the room up with yellow (and some bright contrasting colors), and put some rugs (canvas again, maybe, or some rag rugs?) on the floor. Let the cat enjoy your company, while you spend the money on something else.

  11. deus-ex-maria
    deus-ex-maria April 7, 2011 9:06 am

    Since you have a relationship with the people who own this business maybe you can work out some creative barter so you can buy from them and save the $100. As a new business, do they need a logo, brand identity or ad copy? Maybe someone to design and distribute a flier? Perhaps some computer or internet help? You do have skills that a new business could benefit from.

  12. Carl-Bear
    Carl-Bear April 7, 2011 9:10 am

    As others have mentioned, there’s no moral dilemma. There are financial concerns to be balanced.

    Right now, the time needed to go to the chain store is not a major cost, and the price is better. Short term: Going to the chain is probably a good idea.

    But… Will you be doing additional work in the future, when travel time could be a major cost? Is there future value in contributing to the continued existence of a local store, one whose owners sound like decent people to deal with (which in itself is a value I’m generally willing to pay for)? Long term: Going local may be a good idea.

  13. Jolly
    Jolly April 7, 2011 9:13 am

    Did you find out about the flooring at the local place? Did you fondle it and ask them questions about it? That’s worth something, I’m sure. As a rule, if I go to a local place, and I get great service, I calculate that into the price. I think it’s cruel to use someone’s patience, then drive down the road to get the exact same thing “cheaper.”

    If the choice was between Home Depot and Lowes – I imagine there’d be no “moral dilemma.” Those are both faceless huge companies.

    What is the difference? Maybe you feel friendly toward these people. Or is it pity? For the former, I’d say, “If you can’t support your friends, what good are you?” If the latter, I’d say, “Pity is a hell of a way to run a business.”

    Naturally, I imagine this situation is in between these two extremes.


  14. Matt
    Matt April 7, 2011 9:13 am

    I’d support the local store. Yep, $100.00 is a big difference in price, but supporting the community I want to live in is worth the difference. The time you need to make the round trip is valuable. Even if you have the time, it is also time away from doing something valuable around your house. The time to drive that 90 miles and back could be most of the time you need to get the floor laid down, or something equally important done. Also, is the frustration of dealing with a big box store worthe $100.00? What if you get their and they are a box or two short of what you need? How much do you save if you have to make two trips, or return unsatisfactory merchandise?

  15. Jim B.
    Jim B. April 7, 2011 9:36 am

    What I’m about to say may sound cruel.

    How is the local business doing overall? If it seems to be doing “Ok” then you may want to patronize them.

    However, if they are truly “suffering”, then it may be better to go to the big box. Your saving of $100 really won’t be much in the long term and they may be better off taking a loss now when they aren’t in too much debt versus later on when they’ll likely dig in a deeper hole for themselves.

    Yes, it is a tough choice, that’s why they call us “Adults”. :

  16. KFK
    KFK April 7, 2011 9:51 am

    I understand the argument for the big box chain, and I certainly know about the realities of money and $100 being a big deal. But you have said that these people have helped you, so maybe you should help them. Sometimes the human factors matter more then economic ones.

    Which is why I will never be one of those big time survivalist fellas, I guess.


  17. NorthIdaho
    NorthIdaho April 7, 2011 10:22 am

    We vote with our dollars.

    If you can’t afford the product locally, you can’t afford it.

    I don’t see this as a choice A or B. It’s a when choice. When will you be able to buy the product locally?

    Credit? No thanks. Credit is slavery.

    To broaden this a bit — look what we’ve done to America in the last 10 years. At every turn we have outsourced our middle class by preferring at every turn, “what’s least costly to me right now”. Voting with our dollars to eliminate industries, jobs, and yes — small towns.

  18. Danny
    Danny April 7, 2011 10:25 am

    You’re purchase isn’t going to save the store and you are going to go to the big city anyway.
    Only you can decide what community and “totin’ the note” (in car dealer speak) is worth to you.
    I’d be fueling the scooter.

  19. Jim Bovard
    Jim Bovard April 7, 2011 10:45 am

    $100 is four cases of very good beer.

    But you’re not a beer drinker, so that doesn’t count.

  20. UnReconstructed
    UnReconstructed April 7, 2011 11:10 am

    Hi Claire,

    Well….I’d probably go local. Reason (for me) is that keeping the local place around is worth quite a bit….The box stores sometimes don’t have such good folk running the show….getting advice can be dicey. The locals *have* to live with you….and they are right down the street. So its not a question of convenience vs distance.

    What is the continued existence of the local store worth to you? If they go under after you have purchased your stuff, will you feel good that you did your bit?

    I had a similar thing. I am on a health insurance plan from my employer. I take a brew of 6 rather expensive prescription meds. I could save about $100 every 3 months if I did mail order with the insurance company. They kept a steady barrage of emails and snail mails telling me the benefits of doing this. So I did that. It had been a huge hassle to every month, call in the script, remember to pick up the script, and do it over again in 3 weeks. AND I saved about $100 every 3 months.

    It was GREAT!….All I had to do was every 3 months fill out a e-form.

    But there was a nice old guy who worked as a part time pharmacist assistance. Every time I would go in, we had a brief conversation with him. When I went mail order, I stopped going in.

    At some point in the next few months, I got a prescription for something that wasn’t in the regular batch. I went in, and, again struck up a conversation with him…..he told me that he was getting laid off. He was pushing 80. I haven’t seen him since.

    Did my $400/yr make him unemployed? No, but I’m sure it didn’t help him.

    I’ve felt guilty ever since.

    This year, my employer switched insurance carriers….so the mail order was no more…..I’ve been doing the local pharmacy again.
    The young guy who works there isn’t as colorful, tho….

    Long winded, sorry.


  21. Claire
    Claire April 7, 2011 11:30 am

    So many interesting viewpoints. And damn — I agree with them all. πŸ™‚

    Well, not quite. I think virtually everything I’ve read here makes sense — which is unusual for such a diverse group of comments. There’s only one thing I truly disagree with (more on that in a second).

    Here’s what I’m going to do, though. I’m going to buy at the local store for many of the reasons mentioned. Jolly said it first, though others made the same point. I found the product at the local store with the counsel of the owner. He came to my house. He really was helpful. Over time, the difference in cost won’t mean much.

    I do see the point of going to the chain store. I’m definitely not against big box stores. They have their place and sometimes they’re wondrous. But no big box store is ever going to come to this town. They’ve come to the towns and small cities 30 and 50 and 90 miles away. If a store in this town goes out of business, it’s not going to be replaced by a Wal-Mart or a Lowes. It’s going to be replaced by an empty storefront, and then nobody will have a choice.

    Absolutely true, my one little purchase wouldn’t save the store if it were going broke. (Jim B. you make a great point about that.) It’s not. The previous owner retired after keeping the store going for decades. The new owners are energetic and will make it work if anybody can. So I’m just going to give them my tiny vote of confidence — and have confidence that they’ll be there to help me out if something goes wrong with the product or the installation.

    Yep, it’s an emotional decision (though not pink and sentimental, as that charming rogue EN might think). But it’s a practical one, also. So that’s my decision — but I can definitely see the reasons for making a different one. That said, I might also do as deus-ex-maria said and see if the owners and I can do a little barter.

    The only thing anybody said that I disagree with is that this isn’t a moral decision. For me it really is, and shortly after I saw it that way, I knew which direction I was going to go. In a slightly different circumstance, I might have gone with the big box instead.

    This blog has the best commenters …

  22. Claire
    Claire April 7, 2011 11:36 am

    Oh yeah. And Pat, you’re right of course. This is a WANT rather than a NEED. But there are some practical reasons (complicated) for doing this now rather than waiting. Aesthetic ones, too. Some artistic problems can be solved with cleverness, sweat, good advice, and a nearby thrift store. This one … not so much.

  23. Andrea
    Andrea April 7, 2011 11:41 am

    Claire, I haven’t read through all the comments so I don’t know if anyone else has this viewpoint but…

    … it would be my opinion that the $100 is a “donation to charity”. The bottom line is to ask yourself whether or not you have the $100 to donate.

    I have a really good friend who runs an online Catholic religious articles/books store. It’s the primary support of her family. I would love to be able to spend money at her store cos I know it supports her family… but I can’t. I just can’t. The excess money isn’t in my wallet. But I do send $5 here & $5 there every month, to charities I want to support. I make $25 go to 5 different places so that everybody gets a “piece of the pie”. I’m of the opinion that you’d have to think of this $100 in the same fashion. If you decide to make the donation, it would be to a cause that you deem worthy of your donation dollars. Provided you believe you have the donation dollars to give… or wish to give “out of your need instead of out of your excess” for this cause.

    Just my thoughts added to the mix. πŸ™‚

  24. Claire
    Claire April 7, 2011 11:43 am

    UnReconstructed, you and I must have been typing at the same time. That’s so sad about the old man. Yeah, I know being laid off at 80 shouldn’t be so bad and I know your $400 a year would never be the only cause. But there’s something about those local stores and local people that’s valuable in itself and can’t be replaced.

    Oh yeah, I know local stores can be nasty, too — high prices, unfriendly service. We’ve got a couple small stores here owned by stone bitches; I’d go to the big box just to avoid them. But strolling block to block exchanging smiles and picking up on local lore … that’s something the big box will never give you.

    Don’t worry about being long winded. You’ve got a good heart and it shows.

  25. Claire
    Claire April 7, 2011 11:48 am

    Andrea — definitely nobody else has looked at it like that.

    I’ve been blessed to receive “tithes” from people myself — good people who just want to support what I do. Amazingly often, their donations often come at perfect moments, just when they were desperately needed or just when they could do particular good.

    In this case, though, I’m thinking that the local store and I will do each other good in the long run. It may be a small good on each side. But it’ll be mutual.

  26. Andrea
    Andrea April 7, 2011 11:57 am

    Now I read through all the comments…

    … and I’m thrilled to see you are going to stay/buy local. πŸ™‚

    Just a little story:

    Several years ago I went around to stores in-town here, to try to drum up items for our church’s raffle. It was only then that I realized how few truly “locally owned & operated” stores there are in our town (of about 40,000 ppl). Having no idea how this whole thing went, I did go to our Wal-mart & other “big box” stores & was told that there was no one there to authorize giving a donation to our church… no one there to simply hand over a coffee pot or a waffle iron & say: “Here…. you can have this to raffle off for your church.” Only when I went into locally-owned stores was I able to walk out with something I didn’t pay for, in order for our church to raise money to keep the homeless shelter up & running.

    No mom & pop business can compete with the likes of the big box stores because the volume just isn’t there. But if we lose our mom & pop businesses, it’s going to have a ripple effect far more than just one family going out of business & closing their store’s doors.

    Be sure to take pictures of your new floor. Can’t wait to see. πŸ™‚

  27. Andrea
    Andrea April 7, 2011 11:58 am

    Your message just now came through to me, Claire…. and yes, mutual indeed. One hand washes the other & both hands wash the face? πŸ™‚

  28. Scott
    Scott April 7, 2011 12:08 pm

    Speaking for myself, I’d likely go to the mom-n-pop place. Why? Well, both practical and human reasons-you may need to have that little store nearby at some point in the future,so it’s probably a good idea to help keep them in business. Driving to the distant chain may not be an option at some point. I just like the idea of the “little guy”-an individual store,not cookie cutter big box places that are all identical from state to state. I will admit I go to WalMart and similar big boxes,but, given the choice, I’ll visit the mom-n-pop places. Or flea markets.Or yard sales. Something that’s unique..but that’s just my opinion.

  29. Zelda
    Zelda April 7, 2011 12:35 pm

    Buy it locally. It sounds as if the knowledge, help and expertise of the local person made it possible for you to make an informed choice. And you will hardly ever get that kind of help from a Big Box store. If something goes wrong (and things do go wrong with home improvement projects) the local store owner is right there and will probably do his/her best to help you out. The Big Box store is miles away (think round trip miles) and probably won’t. A product is a product, no matter who sells it. Product price is different from product value. I’ve been working on my house for over 5 years, and my money has gone to those who provide top quality service, expertise, support, skill levels and step up when things go wrong. They may not have the lowest price but they sure are the best value.

  30. EN
    EN April 7, 2011 1:02 pm

    “as that charming rogue EN”

    Thank you Ma’am, no one ever called me charming before. I love the internet.

  31. Matt
    Matt April 7, 2011 1:04 pm

    My town has three big box stores. The local hardware store that should of died when Lowe’s and Home Depot cam in is doing better business than before. Their customer service is great, prices reasonable (often competitive with the bigs) and their garden section has plants that will grow locally. Win, win. The one local store that did go under was poorly run, high priced and had surly owners.

  32. Gloria
    Gloria April 7, 2011 1:17 pm

    Go with your heart and remember that money (or at least some of it) will keep circulating within your little town.

  33. EN
    EN April 7, 2011 2:32 pm

    I’ve seen the same thing Matt. We have one hardware store that’s been here for over 120 years and it continues to thrive. Their answer was to built a bigger store and offer more, espeically to contractors. I doubt if they are going anywhere. I hate going to Lowes, I’m not a crowd person, and continue to go to the old hardware store mainly based on there being little difference in price and there’s no 19 year old college kid trying to tell me about flooring. But if there’s a better value I go to big box.

  34. Woody
    Woody April 7, 2011 2:33 pm

    I am poor and live in a rural setting. After reading your description of the problem, if it were me, I would buy locally. Money, although important, is not value. I value those in my community more than I value $100.

  35. naturegirl
    naturegirl April 7, 2011 3:41 pm

    If anything were to go wrong with it, either during installation of afterwards, a trip back to the big box will eat up that $100 gain……

    If that were me, I’d buy local just because it’s good community karma…..that $100 will come back to you via someone else in the community, cuz karma is like that…..

  36. naturegirl
    naturegirl April 7, 2011 3:43 pm

    “or” afterwards, sorry for the typo

  37. Red
    Red April 7, 2011 5:49 pm

    If TSHTF or the grid goes down, all we will have is our own communities. It’s been said “Make your friends when you don’t need them, so they will be there when you do.” Building up your own community is akin to mending your own safety net.

    As far as the cost, it really depends on percentages, even though the $100 is actual hard-earned money. If the choice were $50 versus $150, paying three times the price for everything you buy is a high cost for building community. But $1100 versus $1200, or maybe even $450 versus $550 would seem to be reasonable for the extra service.

    For example, we are now spending about $40 per week buying milk from a local farmer, as opposed to about $32 from the regional dairy chain. That little bit extra every few days seems like a worthwhile investment in community.

    Also, if TSHTF, many of the small vendors who don’t have enough product to supply all those locals who used to drive away to save a few pennies, will probably take care of their regular customers’ needs before supplying ‘strangers.’

  38. Claire
    Claire April 7, 2011 5:56 pm

    Woody, naturegirl, Zelda, Gloria, Scott, Red (and anybody else I may have inadvertently missed since my last post) — Thank you all. More good points and good humanity. Not meaning to imply that it would have been inhuman to go to the big box. πŸ™‚ Just meaning that there’s more to it than money. Woody, your comment especially means a lot coming from somebody in your position.

    Andrea — I liked your story, though it also seemed sad. I know that some of the big stores also try to help their communities (and sometimes they do it in wonderful personal ways like giving employees paid time off to work at animal rescues or other charities). But too often they’re as impersonal and bureaucratic.

    We also have a local hardware store here. The store is doing wonderfully — and lately its prices have often been lower than the nearest Wal-Mart’s. No surprise, the owners are the richest people in town. Yet they’re totally approachable. Virtually every adult from that family is involved in multiple community volunteer groups. And whenever anybody is holding a fundraiser for any good cause, the store will donate to it — often heaps and heaps of stuff. (Fortunately, the local animal rescue is among their favorites.)

  39. Claire
    Claire April 7, 2011 5:59 pm

    Red — amen!

  40. Mary Lou
    Mary Lou April 7, 2011 7:14 pm

    Got in late to the discussion … to me, of course, not having to drive 180 mile round trip is worth $100… plus, the local guy was helpful to you, and may be so in the future.

  41. JuliB
    JuliB April 7, 2011 10:46 pm

    I’m late too, but am glad to see that you will buy local. We’re human beings, with hearts and souls, not computers.

  42. Rick Burner
    Rick Burner April 8, 2011 4:04 am

    I’m chiming in late because I don’t “do” internet in the evenings. Wow, lots of good ideas. Claire, you sure have thoughtful readers.
    For me, the local store would probably be the choice–but not for moral reasons. I can see both sides of that question and they’re all well thought out.
    In my case I’ve learned that I’m not as smart, handy, or talented as I used to think. Something usually goes wrong. I need local assistance I can count on. Sounds like you can count on these people (and already have).

  43. LisaC
    LisaC April 8, 2011 7:40 am

    I too am glad you are going to buy from the local business. Another thing I have to always consider when driving some distance to purchase something because it’s cheaper is not only the cost of gas (and of course it is not JUST the gas but also maintenance so cost is higher) is that I will probably be eating out if I am going to be gone for a good part of the day. And my time is worth something as well.

    Not to mention that buying locally makes all kinds of sense for the very reasons others just listed. The new owners sound like good people to deal with. Gotta love their work ethic and dream of making it work even in this economy.

  44. Jeff
    Jeff April 8, 2011 7:47 am

    I’d probably buy from the local store so I didn’t have to make the drive, 180 miles round trip isn’t worth it. If its Costco, I wouldn’t drive 5 miles because I refuse to deal with Costco after they got Vegas Metro to murder a guy last year here in town.

  45. Radidio
    Radidio April 8, 2011 8:02 am

    If a non-emotional decision would be made then consider the economic position. Money spent locally shores up the local economy. The money (maybe) will be spent locally at another business. That makes jobs and a tax base for local concerns like schools, highway department, utilities, fire department, ambulances, 911, etc. The big box might be in another county and the money spent there would stay there. Maybe somewhere down the line it might cost you more to maintain your county road so you, and the neighbors would have to shoulder the cost if you buy at the bog box.

  46. The Freeholder
    The Freeholder April 8, 2011 8:50 am

    What is the $100 worth to you in the near future, and can you afford it right now?

    What is having that store near you worth now, and in the future?

    I’m guessing it’s more like $100 on a $425 purchase (15×15 room), so a hefty premium to buy locally, less gas, time, wear and tear on the vehicle, the risk of going to the “big city” and the utter joy of dealing with minimum wage help at a big box store.

    If you can stand the money, I’d buy from the local folks and ask them if you could pay it over 2-3 months. If you can’t, I’d find it on the Internet for a good price (you do have to find a place that ships free, but that isn’t hard as a rule) and save myself donating the sales tax to the bloated government.

    The underlying logic I’m using is that our time with the artifact we now know as “civilization” is most likely limited. Probably very limited. One day, it’s going to be us saving our neighbors and our neighbors saving us. Best to start building the necessary bridges now, while things are still relatively easy, rather than later, when things are relatively hard.

  47. ChevalierdeJohnstone
    ChevalierdeJohnstone April 8, 2011 10:32 am

    I see evidence of some kind-hearted ethical and economic confusion in these generally great comments.

    When you buy something from a local business, you are not “supporting” that local business. You are a customer engaging in a mutually-agreed economic transaction. That economic transaction may well not even be profitable for the business: I have in the past done this for a living, and it is amazing the number of “profitable” transactions which turn out to lose a lot of money once all the costs are factored in (which most hard-working small business owners don’t have the time to do.)

    If you want to support businesses in your local community, then offer to make them a loan at reasonable rates, or buy a minority share of the stock, so that they can do things that will make their business more profitable over the long run, such as buy computer software to help track real costs. This is an ‘investment’ in your local community.

    Buying some flooring tile is not an ‘investment’.

    Of course there is a moral component to every economic transaction: you ought to be honest and fair in your dealings with the other party. You can do no more than tell the proprietor why you are going to buy from the chain store and give him an opportunity to make you a better offer. There is no “moral” component to the transaction beyond that. In fact, if you don’t like the price offered but take it anyways, you are dishonestly providing charity while lying to the other party and telling him it is a mutually beneficial exchange. Personally I find this disgusting and highly unethical: if you want to offer someone charity, you should be honest about it and give them the choice of accepting or declining your offer. Some people don’t want to accept charity and the moral person respects their wishes.

    As for where you should shop: what makes you happy? Life is not about material things, material things are just part of life. If spending an extra hundred dollars at a local store makes you feel good because you like the people and the shopping experience they provide, and you can afford it – why not do so? Most of us spend far more than $100 every year purely on things which amuse or entertain us or otherwise make us happy. An economic transaction isn’t about material bang for material buck, it’s about an exchange of value. Clearly Claire Wolfe derived significant value from shopping at the local store, and if that’s worth $100 to her – great!

    But don’t kid yourself that “shopping locally” is the same as (financially) supporting your local small business. It’s not. If your chief concern is the financial well-being of your local small business owner, then shop at the chain store, take the $100 and offer to lend it to your local business as a low-interest, long-term, junior loan. If they can’t find more profitable things to do with $100 at 1.5% annual cost than sell you some floor tiles at their rock-bottom price, they are in the wrong business anyways, and you (and hopefully they) will have learned an invaluable lesson.

  48. Claire
    Claire April 8, 2011 11:54 am

    More good opinions — and some good original and analytic thinking. As you know if you’ve made your way through these comments, I made my decision yesterday with your help: I’m going to the local store.

    For me, that’s the right thing and I’ll live easier with the decision than if I’d gone to the big box.

    But here’s the kicker. This’ll give you a smile.

    You know how sometimes “doing the right thing” can hurt? On the other hand …

    I went back to the local store this morning, told one of the owners my decision — and told her the reasons and explained how you had helped. And I asked if they could just come down $50. I said I’d still buy from them if they couldn’t do that, but it would be a big help if they could. She looked at the figures again. We talked terms. She said she could come down $95. I walked out of there one happy girl. The locals were giving me as good a deal as I could get by going to the big box.

    Half an hour after I got home, the husband and wife both called on speakerphone. They were dropping the price by another $100.

    The only catch was that I’d have to wait maybe a few weeks longer. Since I’m still painting the room, repairing its ceiling, and framing and drywalling a closet, longer is good.

    I asked, “Now, you’re sure this works for you? You’re sure you’re not cheating yourselves?” They said no. They said thanks for staying with us.

    Is that cool, or what?

  49. Claire
    Claire April 8, 2011 12:00 pm

    One other thing I want to stress — Even the comments I disagreed with helped me a lot. In fact, my gut reaction to recommendations to go to the big box gave me the biggest clue as to what I should really do. When I wrote the blog, I was torn. I was thinking, and intellectually the big box or local store sides balanced each other. Only when I began reading your comments did I understand that my heart had its own strong opinions. Everything I read from you helped me understand that.

  50. Karen
    Karen April 8, 2011 1:39 pm

    Late to the game as usual. I’m glad for your decision to stay with the local folks, even before the lovely news of the price drop. It sounds like they could be a very valuable resource for product and information when you get around to dealing with that big old living room floor.

  51. naturegirl
    naturegirl April 8, 2011 6:18 pm

    What a great reaction from the local business! You wouldn’t have gotten that kind of response if the big box was in that position…..

    Good people, they sound like good people…..and cool……

    There’s one more super important element of all this & that’s honesty….your openness and willingness to explain your situation to them and their responses back shows a connection made on honesty and mutual cooperation….That is the real amazing part of all this, that gets lost in the dilemma of money; yet it’s a priceless when it happens….

  52. EN
    EN April 8, 2011 7:21 pm

    I’m glad it worked out for you. Very often life gives us the solution if we just think about it for a while.

  53. JuliB
    JuliB April 8, 2011 9:58 pm

    You know – we vote with our dollars. So can it ever be ‘just’ dollars and cents? I was reading an article of Wendy McElroy about prison labor in the US.

    Would I buy something I knew was made with forced labor? No. Does China have some of that? I think so…

    I just bought my SO a smoker for his bday. I went with a Weber. Yes, it was more money, but I’d rather support an American business. While I’m not too thrilled with supporting unions, I’m happier than supporting an inhumane China.

  54. Freedom42
    Freedom42 April 8, 2011 11:50 pm

    It’s 3 am here now and I have read most of the comments. But I must add something here that most people do not realize. Big box stores have the manufacture create a product for them at a lower price point. The local people may have the same brand name and color but a better made product.

    No product in HD/Lowes is the exact same as the product in the retail stores. You will get what you pay for.

    PS, Been a GC for over 30 years, now retired but what I said above is fact.

    Stay local, and you will feel better. These are the folks that you will be going through much worse things with soon.


  55. Karencs
    Karencs April 10, 2011 1:09 pm

    Very interesting that I found this question/blog today. I am working on a paper for school right now regarding the benefits of the ‘big box’ store. While I feel there are many benefits I am also focusing on how I think we will start to see more and more small local businesses coming back and being successful. Which to me- is another benefit created by the big box store.

    For one reason, owners have learned a lot about their competition over the years and can now offer many things those larger stores can’t. Customer service being at the top of the list. They can also cater better to those in the community by knowing their neighbors needs.

    I have found that the more I stop into the smaller stores regardless of the size of the town/city- they seem to have products of higher quality but also at reasonable prices. Plus it is nice sometimes not to be so overwhelmed by a zillion choices of a zillion different products.

    I support buying local as much as you can. It helps the community and makes it stronger. You get to know your neighbors and sometimes they can return the favor if you start a business. I know you might end up spending more money so it is not always feasible but those big box stores are closing their doors too (Borders, Linen’s N Things, Circuit City). Bigger is not always better but community is important. I think more people want to get back to that.

    Since it is a one-time project with the flooring and will not be an expense you have to increase your budget by on a monthly basis or something- I would buy local. The service will be well worth it as well as the new friendship you made.

  56. The Grey Lady
    The Grey Lady April 11, 2011 6:16 am

    I would shop local, the more charming character and amenities your town has the better the resale value of your home should you ever have need to sell in the future. I would see the 100 dollars as an investment in my own property values.

    Also you are an entrepreneurial lady yourself, there is a little you scratch my back I will scratch your back in small towns. Folks remember buying patterns like this, you support the community the community will in turn do their best to support you should you decide to give them an opportunity.

  57. Claire
    Claire April 11, 2011 12:52 pm

    Karencs — Thanks for the comments. Hope this discussion was useful to you. If you put your paper online, post again with a link. I’d love to read it. Sounds interesting.

    Grey Lady — Yet another perspective nobody else has come up with!

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