Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Where to buy your stuff

Now on to where to purchase your culinary tools and appliances. We'll start with a little story:

Bob was going to cook a special dinner for the holiday. On the eve of the big day, he was going over his meal plan, and realized he didn't have a particular culinary tool that would make the preparation of one of the dishes far easier and faster. So, he decided to dash down to a local store that specialized in cooking equipment to buy one. Bob often liked to window shop there; the place had a wonderful selection, and the staff was knowledgeable

But, since Bob was a smart shopper, he almost always made his ultimate purchases online, or at the local mega-mart, because it saved money. However, this time he needed a tool
now, so he couldn't shop online, and he also knew that the mega-mart didn't have the item he was looking for.

When Bob pulled into the parking lot, he was shocked to find that the culinary store was gone, and in its place was a Starbucks.

As Bob drove home, sipping his latte and contemplating the time he would have to spend doing tedious knifework, he also wondered what had happened to the store. It had been such a nice store, well stocked, and with such a knowledgeable staff.

What happened to the store, of course, was Bob, and people like him, who merely used the store as if it were a public service. He would go there to "kick tires" and to get educated about certain products. There, he could handle the products, and ask questions of people who really knew about them, and when he was ready to buy, he knew exactly which brand and model of a particular tool or appliance he wanted. But then, of course, since Bob was a careful shopper, he would ultimately make his purchase with whoever had the best price.

I have actually seen magazine and newspaper articles that instructed people to do this very thing. This is irresponsible journalism, as it hurts local economies, and really helps no one except the giant corporations. Yes, getting the best price is all that is important to some people, but these people are being shortsighted. Aside from the local stores with their knowledgable staffs disappearing, people are sending millions of tax dollars out of their states. And if you think that by dodging the tax you would pay by buying locally you are "putting one over on the man," you should think again. Deep down, you know how it works. If the state doesn't get money from one form of tax, they will make up for it by imposing or raising another. Or by neglecting something that should be paid for by those taxes. For instance, do you really like beating your car a little closer to death every day by driving through potholes? Also, of course, is the price of the actual item. This is the money that pays wages to the store employees, and pays to keep the store open, the shelves stocked, and the lights on. The employees then spend their wages, perhaps at your business. (Or perhaps they are as shortsighted as many, and spend them online. Oh, well.)

At the other end of things is this: what happens when you are unhappy with something you've purchased at the place that had the cheapest price? Sure, the local mega mart has a liberal return policy. All you have to do is go to the customer service counter, stand in line, show them your receipt, and get your money back. But then where are you? Back at square one. You did your research, made your decision, and you were wrong. Do you now go the the kitchen department in the store, and ask the teenager working there which one you should buy instead? You know, the one who keeps calling you "dude"? Or, if you bought online, do you then ask the order taker, to whom the products are just numbers? Or perhaps you just get another of the same model, and hope this one doesn't break ten minutes out of the box like the other one did?

If you had purchased at your local culinary or restaurant supply store, you could return your item, and then get advice on what to get instead, from people who actually know what the product is, what it does, and why another brand or model might be better for you.

Granted, some of your local culinary stores can be quite expensive, and I am not necessarily saying you should shop there. Places that concentrate too much on atmosphere are usually not good places to shop. Better by far to shop at the same place your local restaurants do. These are usually staffed by people who know their stuff, because they have actually worked in the cooking profession. They are a bit harder to find than most of your consumer-oriented stores, and you usually won't find coupons for them in that envelope you get in the mail each month. To find them, look online or in the Yellow Pages under "Restaurant Supplies." Any that only deal with businesses will usually say so, with a comment in their ad like "Wholesale only." If you have never been to one, they can be wondrous places; like a huge garage sale full of cooking equipment. For an avid cook, going to one is akin to the experience a tool junkie has at a really well-stocked hardware store.

Have I ever bought anything online? Yes. I routinely buy any parts I need for my computer online. Why? Because all the little computer stores owned and staffed by local computer geeks have disappeared, put out of business by mega electronic stores, and online sellers. Since going to the local mega store is usually an exercise in frustration for me, I figure out what I need online, and I buy online. But, I would much rather be able to go to the local computer store, talk to the local computer guy, and buy my computer parts and equipment there. But, I can't, because the trend to buy everything at the cheapest place has already killed the small computer store, at least in my area. I don't want to see this happen with culinary supply stores as well. I think being able to deal with someone face to face who knows something about a product I am considering is worth some "extra" money. I think that if you give it some thought, you might agree with me.

Got any comments or stories about why purchasing locally has been a good thing for you? Or even why it hasn't? I'd love to hear them, please leave a comment.

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