Monday, March 19, 2012

Support family and local businesses

This comment is so cliched that even American Express and Chase use it in commercials for their business credit cards. It's almost second nature to many people who simply prefer knowing who they are doing business with. How can anything be added to this thought.

Let's use Applebee's as a starter. For anyone with taste buds not fired up by adult beverages, the food is not that subtle and not that interesting. Adding bourbon flavoring and salt, add hot sauce, or a dose of heavy creamy salad dressing is their way of fancying up the food. The advertising and their hook is "being part of the neighborhood". In many places, taking local memorabilia and local sports symbols, making them part of the decor, and looking for waitstaff hires that represent the area superficially succeeds in accomplishing their marketing mission.

Here's the problem with that. First, much of the food is just shipped in fast frozen and microwaved in back to exact specifications to replicate just cooked food. It is really just fast food perfected. Through focus groups, studies of food trends, and marketing expertise they have determined what their "target market" will eat, and they nuke it up. There is really nothing wrong with that at all for those who like it, but a certain personal touch is perhaps lacking. Actually some people, myself included on a few visits, think the food is close to awful. That was an excuse to order another glass of wine or something like that, their real money maker. Shake it.

Second, there is nothing genuinely "neighborhoody" about a restaurant that sends all of its profits to some distant corporate headquarters and pays many of its workers minimum wage or modestly more and compensates its local managers at well less than exorbitant salaries while they work long hours as "exempt status" employees, meaning no overtime. Applebee's and most of its corporate cousins create wealth elsewhere.

That's corporate America and there is nothing wrong with it legally or ethically in a strict sense. It is not ideal for a community. What is ideal is for local businesses to grow, reinvest, and spend money in the community that it serves. What is ideal as well is the pride that local businesses take over the long run in knowing and serving their customers, and that cuts both ways, in a good way.

Our primary restaurants, our butcher, our drug store, our deli, our fish market, are all local businesses. That's not by some political or ethical design. They are just better and we know, like, and trust the people.

There are commercial areas that defy local options. We have one large locally owned grocery story that has competitive prices called North Shore Farms and we shop there at times even though it is not so convenient and parking is tough. The Whole Foods has many products that are not carried there. The King Kullen, a Long Island standard supermarket, is closest to us. Some distance away, Costco is simply the best bargain there is for many products by far if you have a little storage space and they are creative marketers, selling quality products and at times ones that you can't find elsewhere.

The genesis of this comment is that we went to HarborQ last night, a barbeque restaurant in a neighboring town on Long Island Sound that is the quintessential barebones family operation. Younger daughter recommended it. The food was not assembly line, some terrific, some ok but items on the menu that we wish we had chosen, and we felt at home immediately. It's that darn people thing. It felt real. Like so many places in ethnic areas of New York City and like almost all of New Orleans before Katrina, it was relaxing.

Supporting family and local businesses is not just good for the community, it can be soul nourishing.

HarborQ doesn't accept Amex or Chase cards, only cash but they do have a fee free ATM.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

We need small business because it creates a community. We need big business because it creates wealth. Wealth means money that gets spent. You didn't make your real money in small business. It was a windfall in big banking I think. Now you can spend that money where you want, with local merchants that chat you up and give you great service. Point is we need both, and there should be no support of OWS freaks that dislike big business. Big business needs regulation of course, but it is absolutely necessary. Small business is like family, familiar, friendly, good, and sometimes bad.

4:20 PM  

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