Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Shopping with a conscience
I'm having a dose of guilt with my morning coffee. I'm making up a shopping list and there are several items I want that can't be found at the little local stores. Time to hit the supermercado.
My shopping preferences are changing the character of the town I live in.
In the last six months, two family-owned local stores closed here in our town, where a traffic light has yet to be installed. The direct cause of these failures is the sudden appearance of two chain stores: a Ley Express and a Santa Fe, not to mention a Walmart and a Sam's Club that opened a couple of years ago in nearby Guaymas.
Granted, one of the closed markets was the Fruteria, which was located several blocks from the main traffic center, had despite its name a rather motley selection of fruits and vegetables, and obscenely high prices for the meats at their old fashioned butcher counter. So when the Fruteria closed there was barely a ripple of concern. But then Izzie's (a five-minute walk from my house) shut its doors last week and although they hinted it might be only temporary, we are pretty sure it's history. Izzie's had a reputation for good meats, and it was possible to request hard-to-get items like brown rice and coconut ice cream, but their produce section was tiny, the store was dark and its aisles narrow. The big stores look much more inviting.
We are left with two endangered family-owned stores in town: Santa Rosa Market (Izzy's sister store, which trades heavily on the quality of its meats although the buzz is that they're not what they used to be) and a tiny market miles from the center of town that specializes in bringing in goods you never see in Mexico, such as Costco products, almond butter, sugarless peanut butter, and dark molasses, in response to local requests. Everyone is keeping their fingers crossed that these two markets will survive the summer, even though we're doing most of our shopping at Ley now. Meanwhile the Mexicans here are patronizing Santa Fe. Apparently everybody, gringo and Mexican, prefers the selection and atmosphere of a big box store, but we don't want to see the little guys go under, so a cloud of guilt over our own hypocrisy diminishes our pleasure in shopping.
On the local internet forum are those who hate the big stores, complaining about their enormous signs and their effect on traffic (especially Santa Fe, which is smack in the middle of Dysfunction Junction, a six-point intersection that begs for that still-in-the-future traffic light). Then there are customers who praise the new supermarkets to the skies. You can get everything on your list at Ley, they marvel. During the fall/winter/early spring season our population is more than 50% North American, so it's no surprise the new US-style stores were a hit. But already some are expressing concern that the local economy might not be able to support them through the summer, and they too might fail.
What pushed my guilt button this morning was an article in the New York Times about how Vermont is attempting to keep out the big box stores to preserve their "Vermontiness." Similar gripes were heard around here when our beloved beach town was altered forever by the appearance of the two big stores, but Vermont hasn't caved, except in the case of the dollar stores that have slipped in here and there. I have to concede that I like the small-town character we used to enjoy, just as the Vermonters treasure their village charm...the cupolas, wood siding, faux hayloft doors and peaked roofs. I remember a town in California near where I used to live, Mendocino, where the same kind of atmosphere was rigorously preserved, to the delight of tourists, who could pretend they had stepped back in time. The place oozed charm and historical character. There were only two grocery stores: a market established more than 50 years ago and a natural foods co-op. But if you wanted to fulfill a long grocery list, you went to Safeway in nearby Ft. Bragg. It wasn't just the variety available at the bigger store, but the difference in price: why would you pay a dollar for an apple when you could get it for fifty cents? Especially if you needed a dozen apples!
I'd like to be able to settle for what's available locally, especially if the smaller stores would cater to our preferences. I'd feel better about myself as a conscientious consumer. But I'm not holding my breath. More likely those stores will close too. And then we will be stuck with whatever the big chain stores want to sell us, at whatever price, which is probably what we deserve.