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SHOP LOCAL – Your Sanity Depends On It

By  Amy Palumbo-LeClaire

I’ve had some issues lately.  Big businesses are on my chopping block.  It’s not that I don’t understand or appreciate the sweat and toll that the top dogs and empowered women have sacrificed to provide job opportunities to support a small country.  They’ve worked hard, made the crucial decisions, and taken on the hefty stresses that coincide with a profit-based (capitalistic) approach.  I get that.  Here’s the problem. 

None of their employees seem happy.  And that makes me, the consumer, unhappy.  Not their problem?  I beg to differ.   In an effort to not single out any particular corporation (a vindictive spirit is a dark one) all names have been changed in order to preserve the integrity of those who are exceptions.  I’ve categorized (below) a few pitfalls of the Big Guns, that is, from a consumer’s point of view.

  • Lines

I’ve spent too many long, haggard minutes in a department store service line (one clearly labeled RETURNS in their defense) to finally reach the promise of a new cashier, a girl swiftly ushered in by someone apparently higher up in ranks, as she’s wearing a different colored vest. 

“I can take you over here,” Joan calls out (I note her nametag) and I seriously want to hurdle the counter and hug her.  Let’s just say I have not been blessed with patience.  I’ve got two interviews perfectly lined up, three stories in my head, and just enough time to squeeze in a return.  I need Joan the way I need water.  To be fair, the purchase – impulsive - never should have been made in the first place.  This isn’t Joan’s problem but I’m still banking on her to erase the horror of the last twenty minutes, which has been spent amongst dull, phone-poking people who, nonetheless, appear to possess a gift I don’t have —they are able to just be patient.  Joan is all I have.  I envision pouring her a cup of chamomile tea and propping her head above a stack of pillows.

Then something terrible happens. 

Joan calls me over but she’s actually not ready to wait on me.  She’s having a problem with the computer and is visibly irritated.  The cash register tape needs to be changed.  The person on the other end of her small speaker has been called to the rescue to - God help us, help me - but he seems to be tied up in Lingerie at the moment.  Worse, despite that I’ve already learned Joan’s name, she hasn’t yet been able to acknowledge me.  She is too busy, too stressed, and, perhaps, too underpaid to manage the small yet vital job requisite of eye contact. 

Now I’m hurt.  The gentleman being waited on at the adjacent register (who was three bodies behind me three minutes ago) shoots me an unforgiving glance.  I swear if I were a fly on his lips I’d feel the vibration of two syllables.  Kar Ma.  My bad attitude with big business just bit me.  Things are getting personal. 

That’s the problem with big businesses.  They don’t need to be personal.  There are too many other priorities within a complex infrastructure that includes needing able bodies (not necessarily human beings with distinct strengths) to fill the needs of the company’s ongoing sales, profits and never-ending lines.  Joan is but one employee in a sea of others.   

  • Product Knowledge

There’s nothing more off-putting than asking an employee a question about a product - to then be transferred to another individual who apparently knows the answer, but guess what?  He’s currently on break. 

  • Service

A nameless Contractor (he could be Frank, Joe, or Ron) has been diligently logged into the Big Business computer two weeks ago to service a small problem with my kitchen window but apparently this individual (she could be Jane, Kay, or Jo) “never got the message” because “there was a communication problem.” 

  • Phone Calls

A robot has just politely described to me the eight different numerals to press, which correspond to one of eight different departments.  Brilliant.  This system has been designed to help me problem-solve independently and cut costs for the company.  I am given the option to dial a three-letter acronym to denote the last name of the person being called.  By the time I’ve listened to all eight options, tried my finger at a three-letter name, which force-feeds me a duplicate person (whose name just happens to have the same three letters) I’m exhausted.  Just around the time when I’ve lost the will to continue, the voice of a live person pops in like a guardian telephone angel.   Then she asks me:  “Can you please hold?”            

*             *             *

I’m no victim.  This year I’m choosing to Shop Local, where a person with a passion, an expertise, and a vision will greet me, work with me, smile, and make me want to, perhaps, spend a bit more for an experience worthy of life’s shortness.  The small business owner often sacrifices his/her own paycheck in order to pay employees, make others feel happy and valuable, and ultimately provide something of unique importance to individuals with unique interests.  She cannot afford to be mundane.  He cannot afford to be stressed-out.  Her business mirrors her gift.  His business mirrors his knowledge. 

It’s personal.   




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