Thursday, March 10, 2011

Doing Business in "Our Town"

I have lived for most of my life in or near the same small town in northeastern Georgia. As I write this entry, there are big holes in what used to be parking lots and sidewalks "on the square." The most common sign in the windows reads "For Lease" and the second most common one reads, "We are Still Open." Oh, there will no doubt be pictures in the paper and even online when the project, which has gone on for several months, is finally finished. But our downtown will need to be like the phoenix of classical literature and arise from its own ashes, because right now there are few cars and fewer customers in the older part of town, just because someone somewhere got a grant to upgrade the street scape.

Speaking of grants, our town recently got a grant to plant trees on public property. Interestingly, they planted trees in some of the same spots where we used to have trees, but the various public works employees cut those down because they got too big or were in the way of cutting the grass with a big mower. I wonder how long these saplings will be allowed to live. Will they last more than a decade before they are "in the way" and become mulch?

Despite the oddities of parking, "foliage festivals," and sidewalks going nowhere, I usually enjoy shopping in our small town. The farm supply stores are my favorites. They are on opposite sides of town, and they stock interesting stuff and have friendly service. Did you break the handle in your shovel? No need for a new one, you can get a dandy replacement handle on the western side of town. Need some mulch? Save some gas and pick up a load on the eastern side of town. Either way, the folks who help you will make it seem more like a social occasion than a mere purchase. These places beat Home Depot and Lowe's in customer service, even if they lack all of the merchandise of those big box stores.

The ladies in our local post office are amazing. They actually thank customers for their business. I mean, I have never heard "thanks" at other government spots, such as the DMV or the tax office. The latter is ironic, because the county tax office gets ten times more money on the day when I pay the car taxes than the post office gets from me in a year, but the post office folks are much, much more friendly.

We have too many banks and too little service, however. This is really odd, because all banks do exactly the same thing, and the only real difference is location and/or service. When I go to mine, one of seven within the city limits, I think these folks have about as much enthusiasm for their work as I did for shoveling out chicken manure when I was growing up. If it wasn't so darned much trouble to change the automatic deposits and debits, I would change to an internet bank. There would be no social value to banking solely online, but it would save gas, and there is no social value to banking in this burg.

There are three main "grocery" stores in our town, and I can often tell whom I will meet in any of the three, based upon the age of the customer. The smaller store that has been here for many years is where I will invariably find the older folks. The mid-sized grocery which opened about ten years ago is my favorite, and I often see people in their middle years there. It is big enough to have most products necessary, but lacks the crowds of the favorite store of the younger set, which is located on the "bypass" and is not really in town at all. The service mirrors the clientele, in that the old store is very friendly, the middle one is sorta friendly, and the big newer one could care less if I shop there or not, because hundreds of other folks are going to be there before the day is done.

Small stores are like small towns, where folks know each other, and doing business there is generally a pleasant experience.

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