"What a waste it is to lose one's mind. Or not to have a mind is being very wasteful. How true that is." J. Danforth Quayle

Monday, December 24, 2012

Sundry Thoughts

I went to a general store but they wouldn't let me buy anything specific  - Steven Wright

Welcome to today’s blog in which I wax rhapsodic about stores of Christmas Past.

It begins with a spool of thread and where to buy it. There used to be lots of choices. There were local stores dedicated to sundries. Department stores like Sibley’s in Rochester and Hengerer’s in Buffalo all had notions departments. National stores like Woolworth’s, and, to a lesser degree Penney’s were known for sundries. Now we are left monoliths like JoAnn’s and the Evil Empire from Arkansas.

Buy Local. Locavore. Words you often hear in the food world. Something to strive for when within your means. I can’t think of them without remembering what we have lost. I love locally raised meats, and patsturers such as Rich Tilyou of T-Meadow Farm. One impediment they have faced is a dearth of area USDA approved processing facilities. To my knowledge there are only two, not always the best for providing satisfactory cuts for re-sale. Shipping livestock to Pennsylvania for butchery is not good for the bottom line.

Things are looking brighter on that front, but what about our everyday needs? Butchers remain, but they are few. Even those are limited by deliveries of pre-sectioned, sub-primals in Cryovac. The days of sides of beef hanging in the locker are mostly over. Yes, they are happy to special order, but it’s not the same.

Megastores, technology, central distribution, low wage off-shoring have all contributed, but we are to blame as well. We have become a society of disposers.

The small appliance repair shops are gone. A friend and client owned Shields Bros. a family business since 1946 – the kind of place you brought your blender when it broke. It was fixed quickly and inexpensively, and without the hassle of shipping. Now we just buy a new one.

Stationery stores are gone, and printing shops diminished. If I were still in practice, I’d get my cards and stationary printed. Engraved cards with raised lettering, good stock, and crisp edges are a sign of professionalism. My needs today are met by a household printer.

Big box hardware stores are the norm, I still patronize Ed Young’s when I can – it has items you can’t get elsewhere anymore, like blender gaskets.

Where can you get a hat blocked or a shoe fitted.

Haberdasher. Milliner. Notions. Dry goods. Mercers. Clothiers. Confectioner. Stationers. Cobblers. Booksellers. Booteries. The local ones are becoming a thing of the past. Look up “retail” in Wikipedia and they aren’t even listed.

My fondness for such stores is personal as well as practical – my Grandfather owned and operated a Toy and Novelty store in Rochester. I still remember its shelves stocked with merchandise. There are even a few reminders around my home.

Are we better off or worse for all this progress? It’s like that great line from Inherit the Wind
“Mister, you may conquer the air but the birds will lose their wonder and the clouds will smell of gasoline”.

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