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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Building Local - GoLocal in Sonoma County

What is it about guys and hardware stores? It’s the only place our family shops where my wife has to sit and wait for me. Perhaps the appeal isn’t that it’s a place to “buy stuff” as much as it’s a place to “do stuff.” And maybe that’s why locally owned hardware stores seem to be holding their own in this “tuff” (a guy term for really hard) economy.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had a clerk say to me, “You really ought to have a contractor do this for you, but if I was doing the job here’s what I’d do.” Boy, does that motivate a guy! He’s saying he thinks I can do a job that would normally require a contractor. Then, as the conversation continues there’s this subtle dance in the aisle, among the pipe wrenches and twist ties, that ensues.

I try to seem smart and understand what he’s talking about and not take up too much of his time on one side. And on the other side I’m trying to glean as much knowledge as possible so I don’t electrocute myself or worse. There’s a sort of calculator that I run in my head that equates the amount of time I’m monopolizing the clerk and the money I’m going to spend. I’ll only ask one question about three dollar box of staples but that above mentioned $200 electrical service panel that could kill me, I might jawbone for fifteen minutes.

The cool thing is that there is always some little doohickey or a tool you’ll use only once that you just gotta have to do the chore. One of these days I’m going to have a barn sale and get rid of all those oddments. I’ll have a great time explaining to the do-it-yourselfers that drop by why they need have them too.

A trip to the hardware store isn’t an exercise in efficiency. Quite the contrary, the longer one can spend putting together the bits and pieces, the plans and solutions, the better. Over the years I’ve developed something of a hackers mentality; 1) If I can’t open it up and get at the innards I won’t buy it, 2) then I take it home and study up on how it’s supposed to work, and then 3) I make it do what I want it to which generally involves something that voids the warranty.

Now that you’ve got a sense of what a hardware store means to some guys, and many gals too, (me!) you can understand too why the neighborhood hardware store is such an institution. You know a good store when the staff stays the same for decades and when you ask a complex question and they practically draw up a stool to discuss it.

The thing is though that these cornerstones of our community are having more and more trouble competing. That’s why I make it a practice to buy as much as I can in locally-owned hardware stores. When I have a job that actually needs a contractor, I ask them to do the same. Cost generally isn’t an issue because locally owned stores will pretty much match any other store’s price. Nor is selection a problem. In fact many of these smaller and older stores have more of the oddball pieces that I crave.

I figure that by keeping my shopping local, I help keep their doors open and that matters because if they go out of business, I don’t just lose a place to buy stuff, I lose a place that helps me do stuff.

(A note from Vesta: last week when I was delivering papers I stopped by Sebastopol Hardware to buy a tool I didn’t have in my truck. One of my newsstands had been smashed and I needed to fix it. Heck – here I go buying another tool I already own! But no – Liz, a fellow Forestvillian) works n Seb Hdwr and she told me about the tool loaner program. I found just what I needed – signed it out – fixed the newsstands and took the tools back. How handy is that?)

For ways to learn how to Build Green as well as Build Local - go to:
Jay Beckwith

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