Clippings: One reporter aims to shop local
I had heard of two holidays that took place over the last week: the traditional one, Thanksgiving, and the unofficial one, Black Friday. So imagine my surprise when I opened my computer this Monday morning and found a barrage of emails in my inbox informing me of a third special occasion: Cyber Monday.
In what is essentially the online version of Black Friday, online retailers dock their prices a substantial amount. I remembered I needed to get a pair of winter boots, so I began clicking around some of the websites, each of which claimed in sparkling, flashing advertising banners that I would get a unique deal, maybe even multiple deals, if I shopped with them.
I was soon hopelessly and utterly lost. I know people my age are supposed to be tech savvy, but the many filters and promotional codes that I had to enter into various screens were really confusing. And in the end, I still wasn’t totally sure that the boots were the color depicted in the photograph, or that the company’s idea of a women’s size 8 would actually fit on my foot.
Online shopping in general, while convenient, is one of the worst experiences. Back in the good old days, like less than 200 years ago, people were still making their clothing by hand. I imagine there were still cobblers in New England. I think that something sad happened when shops and products became less personal; we stopped being able to connect with people over them.
Nor had I ever really paused to think about how my Amazon Prime (“FREE 2-Day Shipping!”) account gets me my online goodies so quickly until I came across an article written by Mac McClelland, a reporter at the last publication I worked for. She had taken a job as a temp worker in a warehouse in Mississippi and experienced first-hand exactly how it is that goods made in China, shipped to the U.S., and distributed at a moment’s notice from across the country arrive on our doorsteps within 48 hours.
For the article, Mac was hired as a “picker” — one of the thousands of people who scurry around Amazon’s sprawling warehouses with shelves lined with various commodities, everything from books and machinery to illustrated calendars and dildos, matching items to each order and placing them on a conveyor belt that takes them to packaging — all while carrying a heavy scanner that not only tracks the location of the scanned merchandise, but also the number of steps the pickers take in any given direction, the picker’s “target speed,” or the amount of time it should take them to find an item for an order, plus the picker’s actual speed and the time by which he or she failed to reach the target speeds. Mac described jogging around a warehouse, carrying heavy items, and having only two 15-minute breaks. Mac was 31 years old at the time — a good couple of decades younger than most of her co-workers.
It’s hard to moralize about where we shop and where all of our goods come from in this economy. But I do think that we in Addison County are very lucky to have the option to shop locally. There may not be cobblers, but we can get shoes from a family-owned store. In many parts of the country you only have the option of big-box chains. And while convenient, I’ve never had a serious conversation with an employee at Target.
One of the things I love most about my job is going around Addison County and meeting business owners. Just this week I got to meet Johnny Johnson, the baker of the best seeded-sourdough bread in town, and see the handmade wood-fired oven where he makes the loaves I buy twice a week from the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op. A couple of weeks ago, I got to speak to the new owners of the Enchanted Closet consignment and Selvage Yard sewing and custom repairs shops, which just opened up in a Main Street storefront in Bristol. Melissa at the second-hand bookstore across the street taught me how to play an acoustic instrument when I interviewed her a few weeks ago.
Small business owners make and select their products carefully. There is a love for their products and their space that you can’t find in a big-box store, and you definitely can’t find online
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