by Guest Susan Tomlinson of The Bike Garden
This is Clint. As you can see, he works in the paint department of Home Depot. What you can't see is that he’s also the bass man in a beloved local band, The Thriftstore Cowboys. I met Clint a few years ago when he was dating a woman in the office where I worked, and I've been to a few of the band's gigs when they are playing in town, but other than that, I can't say I know him very well. But I see him from time to time when I go to Home Depot. And I go there a lot, since I am a do-it-yourselfer of every sort of stripe and it is just down the road from me. I'm not sure Clint really remembers how he knows me, but I do, and since the band and our mutual friend are both good associations, it always makes me smile to see him.
As a gardener and someone generally interested in sustainability, I’ve been thinking lately about what we mean when we say the word “local.” And when I saw Clint this morning at Home Depot, it suddenly occurred to me that I think of it, through associations like this and others, as a neighborhood store.
I know, I know.
But consider this: Clint said, when I asked him, that he appreciates working there because they let him take off—sometimes for weeks at a time and several times a year—to tour with the band. When he comes back, he still has a job. He said that though he’d rather not mix paint for the rest of his life, the people he works for are “pretty laid back,” and it’s nice that they support him touring.
Doesn’t that sound like the kind of values-based thinking you’d want from a neighborhood store?
Sure, it competes with my favorite mom and pop nursery, but I shop there, too. I just can’t afford to shop there all the time, because they are very expensive.
It also competes with my favorite wood purveyor, though not really, since both sell different qualities and types of wood for different projects. Also, the wood purveyor is way the yell and back across town; I burn a lot of fuel driving there, whereas HD is, as I’ve said, just down the street. Sometimes I even bike there.
And yes, HD has materials shipped in from all over, thereby committing crimes against resources, but so do the mom and pop places.
There is also this: The mom and pop stores could never employ as many people who are looking for a job to help them through school, or bring home extra money, or that will let them have time off to tour with a band. Much has been made about the way Big Box stores put people out of business only to hire them, but really, would Clint and the many others working there have been those people?
This is not meant to be an apology for Home Depot. Instead, my point is to re-visit the idea of “local” and where individual businesses and practices fit into the concept of the common good.
There are very few things in life that are entirely good or entirely bad. This is probably true of Big Box stores and mom and pops, non-organic and organic pesticides, bluegrass lawns and no lawn at all, native plantings and tulips, farmers markets and chain supermarkets, Democrats and Republicans, Face Book and face-to-face, Kindle and good old fashioned books. So maybe we need to stop categorizing them that way.
Just throwin’ that out there to chew on.