16 March 2007


Before we moved here, I had mixed feelings and expectations about what the retail scene would be like. In my past experience shopping in some small towns, I came to believe the Norman Rockwell-esque image of the mom and pop retail establishment can be overly romanticized. I've been to plenty of them which are small and offer a poor selection of overpriced merchandise. And, no, many of them do not treat their employees like they are members of the family.

But we are truly fortunate to have a number of small retail establishments in the area which make us proud to "shop locally." Some examples: the NAPA auto parts store, with the manager who jokes about my foreign cars breaking down, but who always supplies excellent advice and exactly the part I need; the feed store in Gibson City, which custom mixes locally-grown grains--- and is willing to stay open longer if I'm running late and call ahead; the pharmacy, run by the same family for decades; and the True Value hardware store (run by the son-in-law of the pharmacist, as it turns out).

I could get prescriptions filled for less money at Sam's Club. I could get cheaper (industrialized pellets) chicken feed at Farm & Fleet. I could save a little on auto parts at Wal Mart. Hardware costs less at Home Depot. And sometimes we shop at all those places, because there is a time and a place for them. But all of those places are miles away, and not part of our own community, and for the most part do not offer anywhere near the level of personalized service that our local retailers do.

This is on my mind because I had a number of things to get at True Value this morning. They've recently moved to a large, new building, and have a selection that rivals any store within 30 miles---but the place has the same personalized spirit that they've always had. The manager recognized me when I came it, smiled and said hello. When I had trouble finding something, a casheir took me right to it. In the past, when I've had questions about which item was most appropriate for my project, someone on their staff has always been quick to answer those questions.

You hear a lot about Wal-Mart driving mom and pop retailers out of business. Maybe that happens sometimes...but maybe some of those retailers needed some competition. Here in Paxton, though there's a Wal-Mart down the road in Rantoul, businesses like the True Value are growing and flourishing. They've figured out how to offer something the big retailers can't, and that we in the community truly appreciate. The merchandise I bought this morning cost a little more than it would have at Wal-Mart, but the whole package of what our True Value provides is well worth that money.

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