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Monday, July 19, 2010

Ode to local busineses

summer treats
As I've been rereading posts from summers past, to keep the blog going while I'm on vacation (only a few more days, alas!) I decided repost this in its entirety. Usually my posts are short and to the point, but apparently on this day in July 2008, I was moved to write an entire essay! Having just had a very negative experience wit ha business owner (not local - from Westchester!) I feel even more strongly about the sentiments expressed here.

It's high summer, and I think we're going through 2 quarts of blueberries a day right now - bought either from Paley's, or Trotta's, or a fruit stand over near Rhinebeck. And s'mores over the grill - it's not quite a campfire but the s' mores taste almost as good! I love eating outside at the beach - fewer dishes to do, the kitchen doesn't heat up (and today, when it's going to be 95 degrees and humid, that's a help) and you always run into someone you know and can share your burgers or berries with them.

I've been musing on the nature of small businesses - both the shops and the services -- lately. They are essential to a town, even one as small as ours, and they keep us going, make it possible to live here. If your sink won't run, or your car breaks down, you need someone to call. Almost every experience I've had with the small businesses in Sharon and environs over the last ten years has been positive - people take pride in their work, do their utmost to deliver quality product and services to please the customer, bend over backwards to make it right if there's a problem, and charge fairly - a living wage for themselves, certainly, but within reason.

But every once and a while a mutter goes around among ones' acquaintances about someone who doesn't live up to that standard - perhaps an employee with a chip on their shoulder, who seems to delight in making ones' experience more difficult, or perhaps a shop owner or service person who takes advantage of someone's vulnerability, or who cuts corners. (Or so it seems from the customer's point of view, because of course there's two sides to every story!) And people love to talk, don't they - they love to complain to anyone who will listen. So it's a risk I take whenever I mention a business - that someone who feels aggrieved will use the comment section to broadcast their discontent in a public forum.

So is that a good thing or a bad thing? Of course one very rarely sees business owners doing the same thing (though maybe they do in private): that is, complaining about that annoying customer who always changes her mind after the work is half-done, who keeps running back to get one more thing, who brings her screaming children into the shop and lets them wreak havoc... turnabout may be fair play, but business owners couldn't do that or they'd lose their livelihood!

On the other hand, it could be useful for a business person to find out what perceptions are out there in the community about them - it might assist them in improving in some area or other, hopefully with the result of increasing their business.

After all, business is about two things: a fair exchange of product or service for money (or barter, as I've happily begun to find out) and, equally important, a relationship. It doesn' t matter if Sam Walton is a nice guy - you're going to shop at your neighborhood Wal-Mart anyway. But in Sharon, CT, or anywhere similar, the smile and greeting by name and "how's your mom doing, I heard she was ill?" you get from the shop owner builds unbreakable loyalty and it's what makes life here so pleasant.

So I give a toast of s'mores and berries to the people who keep us all going - they sell the food and the shoes and the wine, they fix the cars and the sinks and the garden walls, their names are scribbled on lists posted on fridges all over town as the person to call when in need. You make Sharon more than just lovely landscapes - you make it a place to live for a lifetime.

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