Wednesday, December 5, 2007

O-ring in a Haystack

Haven't been able to get out and hike much lately. The bad weather, the early nightfall, work. Hopefully I'll be able to get out this weekend...

But I did get in a little exercise the other day.
I needed an o-ring to repair a leaky faucet, so I went to a Home Depot. I've had a long running love-hate relationship with this orange monster and it's mystifying popularity, and with it's blue cousin, Lowe's.

The place is vast. Big, like the ocean or desert is big. Immense. Stacked high with stuff. I'm glad I wore sneakers, and I should have packed a lunch. I never expect to be in and out of there for anything in less than 30-40 minutes. Usually it takes about 20 minutes of looking around before I give up, and rope a passing clerk, who turns and points me in the right hemisphere, as he walks away backwards, narrowing my search down to another 15 minutes.

I've gone to hardware stores all my life. I have many memories of going to a great little hardware store called 'Pope's', in my hometown, with my dad. They always seemed to have whatever little gadget or thingamajig my father needed to fix this or rig that. The owner, "Pope", was always right there, ready and waiting to assist, or suggest. Sadly, Pope's has just recently closed as the owner has passed away.

The picture above is a shadow of the store's former glory, which was busy with sale signs and products all over the windows, and a big Sherwin-Williams 'Cover the Earth' logo in the upper corner, similar to this one:

Unfortunately, that bizarre image is one of my earliest memories...

As an adult, I'd often gone to Rocky's, or Aubuchon's. As a teen, I even worked for a while at a Serv-U, back when they were getting big. Then they almost went under, and had to retrench, downsizing to just one (profitable) locksmith/decorating store.

Hardware and lumber stores, of course, are always handy to have nearby. Like a butcher shop or produce store. But it never seemed to me like hardware stores ever did business on a scale that would require or support a single store the size of a Home Depot or Lowe's, let alone two nationwide chains of them, competing with each other in every other town. Yet here they are. Parking lots full every day.

How did this happen? Does it have something to do with the real estate boom that began in the 90's? The big-box phenomenon seems to have started about the same time. Buying a house has always been the investment of a lifetime for most people. But with prices (and mortgages) skyrocketing, maybe do-it-yourself repairs and remodeling has become more a way of life than it was previously. Maybe just because everything from lumber to wallpaper is under the same roof, it encourages do-it-yourself-ing to folks who previously couldn't tell spackle from mulch.

If the phenomenon does have something to do with the now cooling real estate market, then it should be interesting to see if their business subsides accordingly.

Across the Parking lot:

Home Depot aside, I am an avowed fan of mega-shopping chains (read Wal-Mart), because I'm an avowed fan of saving a few bucks.

I know the damage I've done to small local businesses and shops, and I do regret that. If I need something of higher quality, I'll gladly pay the extra money and look for it in a specialized small shop. But I don't regret the damage done to other major chains, like JC Penny, K-Mart, Sears, Circuit City. ect. They're all in the same game as Wal-Mart, just not as successful. I heard a story recently about Tweeter. Remember Tweeter, that home entertainment chain? They were selling those plasma tv's for $2500-$3000 a few years ago. Wal-Mart began selling the same tv's for $1400, pinching Tweeter, and the $1000+ on each tv that they screwed their customers out of. K-Mart, which is pretty much on the same plane as Wal-Mart as far as what they sell, almost went under recently, for no other reason than bad management practices. Hate the game, but don't hate the playa'.

A look around the plaza where this particular Home Depot and Wal-Mart are (in Chicopee), shows that their success and shopper traffic is supporting other, smaller chains and some local businesses:

A rising tide raises all boats. This plaza was never so lively.

It sits on what used to be the Fairfield Mall,, with a Bradlees at one end, and Caldors at the other end. The whole place slowly sank when those two stores blew holes in their hulls.

Of course, much is lost when you turn to a Mega-Chain for convenience and price. As far as Home Depot; if you need a lot of different supplies for a major repair or remodeling, then yes, it is nice to have everything under one roof, one massive acre-plus roof. But when I need that one little o-ring, to fix that leaky faucet, It's like a needle in a haystack. That's when I miss Pope's. It sure was nice having Pope greet me as I walked in, and happily hand me the o-ring that I needed.


Anonymous said...

Wow, flash forward to 2 years later and see where that kind of thinking has gotten us. Saving a few bucks, destroying the environment and sinking the economy just so people can get more junk they don't need-- all at one time!

Tony said...

'saving a few bucks' has always been the best way of thinking. (the banking and auto industry- to name two- should have remembered that). I believe it's actually the 'buy beyond your means' mentality that has finally caught up with us, and sunk the economy...