Friday, August 28, 2009

My Love/Hate Relationship with Small Local Businesses: or, Why I Became the Popcorn Queen in Four Hours Flat

I'm going out on another limb here, committing several levels of heresy, I'm sure, but I'll come righ out and say what other people probably are thinking but just can't find the nerve to say:

I have a love/hate relationship with locally owned small businesses.

I love them, because, well, they're my neighbors, and I want my neighborhood to thrive, and I like knowing the people who sell me my goods; but I hate them, because they seem to think that if they are locally owned neighborhood businesses the notion of good business and customer service practices can be thrown right out the window.

Exhibit One: last night, four p.m. Baboo is a part of a neighborhood association and was the point person for a Movie Night event: an outdoor free movie at a local park with popcorn and soda for sale. Everything went without a hitch.

Everything, that is, but the popcorn. Baboo made arrangements for a local mom and pop popcorn shop to provide the popcorn; but when I went to pick it up, at four p.m., during their regular business hours, I find a sign saying "sorry, we are doing a fundraiser at a local school; shop is closed, sorry for the inconvenience."

Are you kidding me? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? This is not cool. Unfortunately, this is also not unusual for the locally owned businesses in my area. There's a coffee shop down the street that I would frequent more, except that everytime I want to spend my money there, they are closed. I can't even begin to predict their hours, as they are something like "every other Saturday, except when a good Seinfeld re-run is on, then we might close early." And then they wonder why revenue is down, why people don't come.

Look, I understand that it is tough as a sole proprietor, and that keeping costs in check is crucial. But really. Hours of business should be consistent, predictable, and most important, HONORED. If I make a special trip to your business and your door is locked during business hours, I'm going somewhere else to spend my money where I know the door will be open when they say they will be. And I am not likely to give you a second chance. The few bucks you spend in labor to get someone to cover the front of the house for you will be more than repaid in repeat business and goodwill.

As for me, at four p.m., with an event scheduled to start at 8 and a school function to attend in between, I had to swing into crisis management mode; I got my biggest pot, my Coleman stove, and popcorn popping supplies from the local grocer (which was, in fact, open for bidness, hallelujah), and started popping at seven P.M. I must say, it turned out better than expected; we sold plenty and we had real butter. Everyone who wanted popcorn got it. Baboo learned a lesson about delegating and event planning. I got to cook for a horde, which I love to do.

But now I have a bad taste in my mouth for this particular business. And I wish I didn't.

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