Normally, I avoid buying cookies, or anything, from strange children on my doorstep. It’s not so much that I discourage budding entrepreneurs as that I prefer to not support the mega-companies providing the product and pocketing most of the profits.
Ratty little lemonade stands, however, are another matter.
There’s something about children, waving crumpled and illegible cardboard signs, that causes me to hit the brake, every time. Apparently, this last week I was one of the few who did, stopping for two 8-year-old brothers or friends peddling chocolate drop cookies from a brown grocery bag and fruit punch.
I don’t know. That combo isn’t especially salivating.
But no matter. The Son and Heir was fixing lunch, which I knew didn’t include dessert, so the business boys and I bargained — no punch; extra cookie; yes, they had change for a ten; no, their math skills didn’t wind up with $9 after deducting $1; and there wasn’t anything like a bag or a baggie to put my product in but at least my hands were clean (I didn’t look closely at theirs).
I mean it when I say that I believe in supporting small businesses.
I buy my yarn at individually owned yarn shops — there’s no yak yarn at box stores — shop for toys at a Main Street locale that the local city government is doing its best to shut down (something to do with a purple octopus the owner painted on the store front), download Kindle e-books by self-published authors (like me!).
Obviously, I wander into a box store now and then — there are no craftsmen creating customized underwear in my price range — but where I can, and when I can, I support ordinary, hardworking people who are making their living the old fashioned way: by providing quality products for the best price they can manage, and making up for the price discrepancy of the big guys by providing what the big guys invariably don’t — customer service, passion for the product, a genuine smile, and heartfelt thanks.
We get what we pay for, and in our quest of cheap goods for cheap prices — really, I understand this, because a lot of hardworking people aren’t making the money they’re working so hard for these days, but their employers are — we get treated cheaply as well. The product isn’t very good. The person selling it to us hasn’t been trained to know anything about it. We’re put on hold, interminably. The melon is rotten, the strawberries moldy. The book is poorly written, barely edited, the pages weakly glued. The movie is indifferently made, its name-brand actor tired and uninspired. The clerk at the state-run agency is busy, doing what, we can’t tell. The seams on the jeans rip out, and it’s not a fashion statement.
Cheap. Cheap. Cheap.
The best way to complain is individually, opting for something different next time. And while yes, we are only one voice, when we don’t use that one voice we have been given, we lose it. So while one little voice crying out in the desert may be difficult to hear, you can’t hear it at all when we add it to the masses. It just gets lost.
Better to use that voice bargaining with the kids selling lemonade or cupcakes or plastic jewelry, investing time in our nation’s most precious resource — its children. We hope that, when they grow up, they will lead with integrity, honesty, and compassion, and the best way to ensure this result is to lead the way, first.
If you want to start or continue your journey of supporting small business people, consider me. A collection of Middle Aged Plague essays, illustrated by Steve Henderson the Norwegian Artist’s paintings, is available on two e-books: Life Is a Gift and The Jane Austen Driving School — volumes 1 and 2 of the Ordinary Life Is Beautiful series. Priced reasonably at $2.99, the digital books can be downloaded to your Kindle, iPad, iPod, Droid phone, and computer itself, the latter through a free app from Amazon. Upcoming is a book on grammar for real people, the kind who don’t sit around over tea biscuits discussing restrictive and non-restrictive clauses.