So, I get to work, happy with the amount of shopping I was able to do on foot in my own neighborhood that morning, and discussed my purchases with a co-worker. He pointed out that on two of my books, I paid $5-$10 above what I would've at say, Amazon. Even Barnes & Noble's website (and probably their large stores in Nashua and Burlington) was significantly less than I had just paid. While I defended, to an extent, the extra cost (in some cases, 50% extra) as buying local, it is true that that is a very significant premium to pay - and not even to a company that is locally owned and operated...or even likely self-supporting as it is associated with UMass Lowell (one of the biggest visible benefits that school has downtown). It reminded me of the new Lowe's in the Highlands, versus driving to South Nashua and buying the same thing tax-free. I had this to say on Topix (yes, I'm sadistic and post in opposition there from time to time, knowing I'm going to often just get screamed down with no real discussion. That didn't happen here, I'm happy to report):
For people in Lowell, Lowe's in Nashua is an extra 30 minutes and will burn a gallon of gas getting there and back. Plus, Lowes in Lowell pays taxes to our community, our state, and employs our residents. By the time the real extra costs of shopping on the DW is factored in, Lowell might be the better deal.So, where do we draw the line? What are the intangibles and the real cost benefits of spending extra down here? Or in the Merrimack Valley in general as opposed to New Hampshire?
- Local businesses make your neighborhood more vibrant, attractive, and livable.
- It's a living situation improvement
- It increases the value of your property to live somewhere that isn't full of empty stores
- You often have a relationship with the employees and live nearby the other customers
- They employ local people and pay local taxes, and are often supported by local banks
- This money is more likely to be re-invested locally
- Time is money, and not spending time in the car is a benefit to you, the environment, and likely, your sanity
- You feel warm and fuzzy for doing a Good Thing.
- You pay more: economies of scale. Money you spend extra could potentially be used elsewhere for other benefits to you or your community. In the bigger picture, you might be making the wrong choice for both you and your community
- The selections tend to be inferior, which often makes a trip unsuccessful, and therefore, a waste of time.
- Sometimes, the service is not superior and things take longer to get, again, wasting time
- They are more likely to have inferior hours, which is an inconvenient waste of time.
The balance, for me, is not readily quantifiable. I buy about 50% of my books at the downtown Barnes and Noble, because their hours suck, they are expensive, and their selection is only decent (I have about a 75% success rate getting what I'm looking for. It would be lower but I know the types of books they carry by now). Once that's weighed against the convenience and the coolness of being able to say you have a bookstore in your neighborhood, that's where I end up - 50%.
I make a point to shop at the Market Street Market for my staples, because even though I know I'm paying somewhat more than I have to and sometimes walk out empty-handed and end up going somewhere else, it is a huge plus to me that they are there. I eat food every day. I don't like stopping at supermarkets for simple things. I like being able to get simple edibles across the street from my house and talk to the owners. Food is not all that expensive. Paying $2 for a $1 yogurt isn't going to break the bank unless my yogurt intake goes up significantly. They usually have what I came in for.
Conversely, ultimately, I feel that Olive that and More, the defunct sandwich shop, fell on the wrong side of the equation for me. They were expensive, slow, and when they used to sell staples, often didn't have what I needed that day. While I miss their breakfast sandwiches (I used to joke they were so slow they must fly to France for every croissant) and don't like the empty space, they simply weren't going to squeeze any more business out of me for those reasons. I wish Northeast Pet hadn't been forced out of there. At pet shop or a music (instrument) store would be a nice addition down here.
Even New England-Wide Newbury Comics has largely fallen out of favor with me. They are somewhat local, but CDs are a dying format. At this point, I have about a 50% success rate at this point getting what I came in for. Even Best Buy is better than that, and national faceless giant Amazon has everything, doesn't require getting in a car, and is usually a better deal. A CD store downtown would be a poor economic move, but I'd be more likely to have a relationship with the owners, discuss things I'd be likely to like, etc. I haven't had that since my first few years of college, when the last downtown Troy record store closed.