Mrs. Trefz Stays In

Three weeks ago I crossed the border to go shopping in the States. I am a home-sticker, from a long line of home-stickers, so I should know better. (For all the entertaining details on how things went, I invite you to read Mrs. Trefz Steps Out.) Yesterday I decided to do some Christmas shopping right here in the comfort zone of my hometown. The experience was enough to convince me that the grass is not always greener in Niagara Falls, NY. In fact, I doubt whether it’s ever greener than in our fair city.

My plan for the morning was to buy meat at a small downtown butcher shop. Since I arrived in the rain before they opened, I packed the children back into the van and drove through the downtown streets until I reached one of those stores I had always admired from a distance, but never had the occasion to visit.

Niagara Central Hobbies has a wide downtown store front, complete with an awning. I love awnings. They’re reminiscent of quaint European stores that seem to welcome you with a kiss on the right cheek as you walk in. It also helped that the store had a decorative old wooden door with some decoupage around the handle. I had to actually pull on the handle for it to open. Very unlike the pompous lobby of your friendly Big Box store.

The store offered everything an artist or craft-lover would need. I also discovered that they had a fully stocked Thomas the Tank Engine section (complete with a large train table for the children to play at) and an equally large selection of PlayMobile in the basement. Any store that has a basement devoted to PlayMobile and doll houses is my kind of place.

While the children played with Thomas I was able to browse without fear of them running off to the sporting goods section. The music playing in the background was tasteful and quiet, and the staff friendly. I ended up buying two gifts: a $21 PlayMobile set, and a wooden drag racer model complete with an acrylic paint set ($12 total). I don’t care where you’re shopping in the States, once you factor in the cost of driving there and back, spending $33 on two Christmas gifts is not bad.

When Sammy announced that he had to pee, one of the Associates took us downstairs to the “Employees Only” washroom. On our way there we passed the extensive model trains section of the store, went down another set of stairs to a separate basement (full of more model trains) and through a door into a low concrete cellar used for storage. The old brick foundation seemed to be breathing history. I couldn’t help but be grieved at the thought that the bustling Walmarts and Michaels of our day are putting unique shops like this one out of business.

After paying for my purchases I left the store and we headed back to the small butcher shop. Pilgrim’s Drug Free Butcher Shop is possibly one of the best-kept secrets in our city. Their business hours sign proclaims that on Sunday they are open from Gone TO Church. Behind the cash register are several plagues depicting the children the store has sponsored through World Vision. Not a bad business model, if you ask me.

Pilgrim’s offers a wide selection of hormone and antibiotic-free meats at prices that rival grocery stores. Besides that, none of their drum sticks spent any time in a cramped, dark chicken barn, and none of their steaks originated in a feed lot. The meat tastes and feels totally different. The staff there recognize the children and me, and always offer them each a slice of drug-free deli ham. (Sammy has already learned to say “I’m hungry, Mommy!” really loudly upon entering the store.) To top it all off, the fresh meat is packaged minimally in small recyclable plastic baggies without any Styrofoam or messy blood-soaked pads to dispose of. Again, my mind wanders to the extensive Big Box meat sections stocked with chemically-infused meat from sickly animals, and I wonder about the future of Pilgrim’s.

People cite convenience as a factor in where they buy products. I would argue that driving across the border to buy cheap chicken is less convenient than heading 10 minutes into town and buying good, affordable chicken from a local merchant. People also cite cost as being a reason to buy south of the border. Obviously some things are cheaper at a place like Walmart or Target, but at what price to the small merchant attempting to sell quality toys out of a downtown store? I personally would hate to live in the Brave New World where all consumer goods are available only through mammoth retailers who have put all others out of business. Ultimately we the consumer will determine who gets to stay in business by where we spend our money. Are you spending your money in line with your values?



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