The Last Windrow: Shop local to support your community

What the word "local" really mean to the American public these days?

Photo illustration, Shutterstock, Inc.

I shopped real local at Herb and Clara Greenwalt's Neptune General Store in 1959.

Today we're deluged with "Shop Local" ads on TV and in the media, all telling us how important it is to do our holiday gift buying at local stores. Having owned and operated a department store with my wife for more than 30 years, I know how important that effort is to keep those stores going for the balance of the year.

It is critical.

I sometimes wonder what the word "local" really means to the American public these days. Does it actually mean the Mom and Pop stores in small communities, or does it refer to the big box stores that are located in the nearest regional shopping center? They are miles apart in meaning.

I grew up with small stores that were really local and owned by the guy or gal behind the counter.


I had my farm kid learner driver's license when I drove the two miles to Herb and Clara's store in Neptune, Iowa. I had made a few bucks baling hay that summer and I was focused on spending some of it for Christmas gifts for the family. I had witnessed my dad tying knots in his farm boot laces until there was not much left of the lace itself.

I knew he would appreciate new laces, and I sauntered into the Neptune store and purchased a package of 54-inch, all leather laces from Herb. Herb even wrapped them in freezer paper for me! And, as an added bonus, he told me I could hunt for nightcrawlers on his lawn next summer! You could call it a Black Friday special!

My granddad chewed plug tobacco and Herb had Granddad's favorite brand, Union Standard, on his shelf. I'm sure it was illegal to sell tobacco products to kids even in those days, but I assured Herb the tobacco wasn't for me but for my grandfather and he chose to sell me two plugs. He wrapped them in freezer paper as well. Two down and five to go.

My wife and I provided the same small store service many times during our years in our department store. We provided curbside service long before it became the popular service we hear advertised today. We offered free delivery to those who couldn't leave their houses many times. We were miles ahead of the new internet stores because we took phone call orders for pickup orders almost everyday.

Credit cards weren't a big deal in our early years in the store. We had what we called "open charge accounts." These could be tricky as we didn't have any immediate way of checking on some person's credit worthiness. I'd kind of look them in the eye and see if they flinched when they came to the counter. If they did, I imposed my own credit limit.

Most of those charge accounts were taken care of every month, but some were not. The advent of modern credit and debit cards took care of most of our concerns about issuing credit.

And, in the real days of the Mom and Pop stores, we had fun as well, especially during the busy Christmas shopping season. There was an occasion when a guy purchased a camouflage duck hunting cap for his son and asked to have it wrapped. I dutifully wrapped his gift among the hubbub of five of our employees rapidly wrapping gifts as well as my customer waited for his gift.

I handed him his wrapped box and he left. Two days after Christmas he came back in our store toting his box with a smile on his face. Somehow during the free-for-all at the wrapping counter his gift had been switched with a pink nightgown. That same day a lady came in laughing with his camouflage hat.


Shop local took care of those problems on the spot.

I encourage my readers to really try to support their own community businesses this year. It is especially important if you want to see them around next spring.

Even if they can't offer you the chance to hunt nightcrawlers on their lawns when the weather warms again.

See you next time. Okay? Be safe!

John Wetrosky - Last Windrow.jpg

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