Thursday, September 23, 2010

The RX for Buying Local

From the bean of Green Bean.

I squinted and bent over, rummaging through the pile of canvas bags and children's artwork, frantically looking for my prescription sunglasses. I found something smooth and hard - my glasses case! But it only held a regular pair of sunglasses - for those days when I wear my contacts which is pretty much every day that I don't have a splitting headache.

I tossed the case back in the glove compartment and turned the key in the ignition. Sunlight streamed through the windshield, tightening the vise around my head. I ignored the throbbing and barreled down the street toward our 24 hour chain pharmacy - a written prescription for migraine medication burning a hole in my purse.

Sure, I could have traveled one town over, to an independent pharmacy. Two brothers own it. They know my name and my prescriptions when I walk in the door. They vote the way I vote.

And, they are closed on Sundays, before 9:30 in the morning and after 5 o'clock in the afternoon. It often takes them at least a day to get the medication I need. That means that if I hand them a prescription on a Saturday morning (or even a Friday afternoon), I won't get it filled until Monday mid-day.

I've tried to work around this by planning ahead. By counting leftover pills in a bottle or puffs in an asthma inhaler but sometimes, life happens. I've spent one too many weekends with a blinding migraine and no medication. One too many nervous nights with a preschooler whose inhaler was running on empty. And so, today, I pull into the drive-through at Walgreens. A nameless pharmacy assistant who has no idea who I am takes my prescription. I get a text message 15 minutes later than my medication is in - though I am advised to check and make sure it looks the same as last time when I pick it up. Big pharmacies are notorious for accidentally giving out the wrong medication. I check. It is the right medication. A half an hour later, I'm good.

Or at least the headache is gone.

But what about my commitment to support independent businesses? I walk into a nearby, locally owned children's bookstore and it hits me. I love this store. Their selection is wonderful. Their staff fantastic. They can recommend "read-alikes", new books, new authors. The store offers classes, parties, author readings. If they don't have what you want, you can order it in the store - or better yet, off of their website, which in and of itself is a font of incredible information.

It is important to shop local but, the truth is, local businesses need to adapt to survive. Natural selection and all that. This local bookstore is not the first on our street. Another went out of business after only a year. It couldn't offer the same selection. It didn't have a website. It couldn't compete.

To make this "buy local" thing work, we all need to change. We, the consumers, should go out of our way to support locally owned businesses. Independent businesses increase diversity in the marketplace, bring more money back into local municipalities, create meeting places, build community, discourage urban sprawl, and so much more. They, the independent businesses, though, need to constantly think about how to satisfy a consumer used to convenience, one raised on 24 hour service and Internet shopping. Those businesses that do adapt will be the first to get my dollar.

I bring my book purchases up the counter. The owner adds them up and then puts the tally with my frequent buyer program. Woohoo! I hit the milestone and get a $10 gift card back. Apply it to my total, have one of the books wrapped for a friend's birthday, and am on my way - feeling less guilty about the Walgreens prescription bottle in my purse and looking for more ways to support the local guys, without giving myself a headache.


JAM said...

I hear you on this one - I just bought a lot of stuff for various birthdays at our local toy shop, but I was only able to do it because they were having their yearly 25% off sale, which brought them under Amazon. Normally, they cost quite a bit more, and with free shipping at Amazon, it's hard to justify. The pharmacy question is interesting. We have a small, local pharmacy with fairly inconvenient hours, but we have a large CVS with great hours. I have to say that I know a lot of the pharmacists there (we've been in a lot since my Dad is very sick) and they are very caring and conscientious, and when I went to pick up 7 prescriptions for him someone else there (not helping me) heard the pickup name and called out - oh, don't forget that other one, we did it at a separate time! I had gotten it a few hours earlier, but she was very aware that my dad had a lot going on and was completely on top of it. So I think the service at a chain can be excellent, and of course it's local people working there. SO there's give and take with all this. I think supporting a good store with great customer service is a good thing, even if it is part of a large chain. It would be nice if we could always have the blend of local, independently owned, and great service and hours, but as you said, that doesn't always happen.

Chile said...

Great point. Independent businesses need to really examine their business models and find the balance between being able to offer convenience (e.g. hire more staff to stay open longer hours and have a website) and not going bankrupt. I'm sure it's very tough when the big corporations have lower overhead, but it's an important ingredient in luring customers away from 24/7 convenience and low prices for the ideals of supporting local business.

Green Bean said...

@JAM: Great point re your good customer service. Another good example is the franchise owned by a local.

@Chile: I think it is a hard balance and I cannot imagine what it takes for small businesses in this climate but I do see success stories all around us! :)

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

I just finished Big Box Swindle, so I've been thinking about this issue a bit lately. I love the idea of supporting local businesses, but so often, the convenience of chains wins out. And frankly, I think that the fact that chains have gotten so big and widespread is evidence that people value convenience and low price more than good service or diversity in the marketplace. (In fact, I would argue that most people actually don't like diversity at all and prefer to be able to find the same stores and restaurants wherever they are - it's comforting.) There's some good in both sides, so I've been pondering what could be the balance. It's a tough question.

Robbie said...

Sadly, I agree. People take comfort in the convenience of a chain.

Amber said...

What great ideas! I have an award waiting for you on my blog come and check it out!

Going Green with Noah said...

Hi there!

I can't believe I'm just now finding your blog!

I'm a green blogger too!

Hope you'll come and follow back!


Angelina said...

Since moving to a small town I have learned a lot about inconvenience compared to the convenience of living in a much bigger city. Finding the products I am used and want is often a pain in the butt and I either have to make do with what I can find here, or shop online which I prefer not to do.

I don't think my opinion is going to be very popular but I think that if we all really want to change the way things are going globally we need to let go of convenience. A love of convenience, sameness, and cheapness is why big box stores mushroomed up in the first place.

I do agree that small businesses need to make some effort to make their practices as smooth and convenient as they can, but there's only so much they can do.

I get all my prescriptions from our independent RX and yes, they're closed on Sun. and close early on Sat. but I find that it's not that difficult to work around that.

If I have an emergency and need an urgent prescription for my sick kid, I will, of course, go to Rite
Aid and not feel bad about it.

Green Bean said...

@Erin: It is a tough question. I found Big Box Swindle to be a compelling read but you are right - people obviously are willing to sacrifice diversity for price and convenience.

@Robbie: Too true! I have hope though that there are local businesses out there that will adapt and flourish.

@Amber: Why thank you! We'll be right over. ;-)

@Melanie: Thank you for stopping by. I look forward to reading what you are up to on your blog.

@Angelina: I don't think your comment is unpopular at all! This is a tough issue for me and one that I've struggled with off and on for a few years. I've managed to keep a few of my regular prescriptions over at the independent pharmacy but there are ones that just cannot wait. If you can make it work, though, I think it is great! Supporting small and local businesses is so important ecologically, economically and politically.

Melissa @ HerGreenLife said...

Is it fair to expect local businesses to be wonderful for all the reasons you mention and "satisfy a consumer used to convenience, one raised on 24 hour service and Internet shopping?" Sure, this would be nice, but maybe it's our expectations and on-demand culture that need to change and adapt. Not that I'm perfect on this by any means, but some food for thought.


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