I'm a huge believer in localism. I talk about it, I write about it, I think I live it.
Well, I try to at least. I really try to live in ways that are consistent with my beliefs.
Sometimes, though, I run smack into the wall dividing good intentions from how I actually live my life at times. When that happens, I ruefully rub my forehead and conscience and try to do better.
Today was one of those days. Today was the day I realized it was time to connect my beliefs in localism with my checkbook a little more closely when it comes to groceries.
Delaware is served by three grocery chains: Kroger, Meijer, and Buehler's. (A fourth chain, ALDI, is coming to town this spring.) Meijer is a Midwest chain with 180 stores in five states. ALDI has a larger range, with over 1000 stores in 29 states (and has a large international presence as well). Kroger is the national behemoth, owning a number of store chains (Ralphs, Fred Meyer, Fry's, to name a few) and doing over $76 billion dollars in sales annually.
Buehler's? Buehler's is a regional chain of 13 stores, all but ours located in northeast Ohio. (For the record, Delaware is squarely in the middle of the state.)
I stopped at Buehler's this afternoon to grab some soy milk as Liz was over tonight and she doesn't drink cow's milk. It was after 5 p.m., when grocery stores around here are starting to hum with folks heading home after work and stopping for bread or cheese or soap or something.
Buehler's was very quiet. And while there are a number of reasons to shrug that quietness off, including the cold and snow, I've heard enough through local grapevines to know that Buehler's is concerned about their Delaware numbers.
I picked up my two items, I checked out quickly, and as I drove home, I thought about the quiet store. And about what a commitment to localism means. Or looks like. Or costs.
I don't often shop at Buehler's because the food items I tend to buy - mostly staples - seem a little higher there. I say "seem" because I have never compared across store lines the prices of the 10 or 15 most common items we buy. I haven't thought about the other side of the equation, which is spending my dollars in large, out of the area corporations. True, Buehler's is not a locally owned grocery, but it is as close as it comes to one in this town.
As Warren and I ate supper, I commented on the emptiness of the store and then said, slowly, "I felt like I ought to be giving them more of my business." Warren nodded immediately. He said "and they buy a lot of their produce locally."
I don't kid myself that we will shop solely at Buehler's from here on out, although I can safely say we will try to do most of our shopping there. I don't kid myself that shopping there will be the ideal solution or that Buehler's is free from the evils of the corporate food structure. And I don't kid myself that our shopping at Buehler's will have anything more than a small effect on the store's profit margin. Given that we spend less than $200 a month on groceries most months, we're talking a very small pebble tossed into a very large body of water in terms of impact. But it is a pebble that I feel I need to toss.
As a kid, I grew up a block away from the Olentangy river, which cuts through Delaware from north to south. It was a great playground for me and my brothers and cousins. One of the more popular pastimes was seeing how many times you could skip a small piece of shale or other flat rock across the slow moving surface. One or two skips marked you as a rank amateur; five or more skips marked you as a serious contender.
I hoping for five or more on this one.