There's no doubt that I can buy office supplies more cheaply at one of those big-box office warehouse supply stores where everyone wears a matching polo shirt and displays, at best, an anemic interest in me, my questions, and my purchases.
Sometimes, though, I put out the extra money that it takes to go to a little local shop. It's one of the last stores of its kind--small, personal, convivial. There isn't much stock, but what's there is interesting and unique. Usually a cat dozes among the Underwood typewriters that make up the window display. Today when I wandered in a woman looked up from her label sorting and gave a friendly smile. A man in shirt and suspenders, whose neck was warmed by a multicolor scarf that may once have belonged to Dr. Who, knew me when I came in because I was clutching my empty cartridge box and had called to reserve one of his.
"Buckley?" he said.
"That's me," I agreed. I saw a little dog in the corner; he seemed impatient to go for a walk and gave a growling sigh.
"Just a minute," said the woman to the doggie. She told me, when I asked, that the dog was a long-haired Schnauzer. He was very cute. Everything about this place was quaint, and the service from the man who immediately placed the requested cartridge in my hand was almost unsettling. It was personal. So few stores provide that anymore.
I hung around after I paid, smiling at the dog and soaking up the ambience of the little stationer's shop. "These cartridges are so expensive these days," I said. "I print out one copy of one manuscript, and the ink is gone."
Dr. Who grinned at me. "Write short stories," he suggested.
"Or haiku," added the woman.
I laughed. "I guess that's the style that fits the new economy."
They agreed, and I took my leave of them. I realized that I missed many stores like this that had once existed near me: the little hardware store which had been owned by the same man for sixty years until he had to close it down, where the merchandise was piled precariously to the ceiling; the woolen shop with exotic yarns and unusual patterns and women who offered knitting lessons; the second-hand bookstores--tons of them--that my husband and I used to stroll to on a Sunday, where cats would lie on the windowsills and mystery paperbacks cost ten cents each.
We may be saving money at the ultra warehouse stores, but we're losing out every time one of these tiny stores closes. These stores are peopled by the real thing--those who care about their products and their customers, and who serve with congeniality.