I’ve been getting more and more disappointed with large corporate chains and moving what little business they got from me elsewhere.
For example, I used to buy a lot of tea at Peet’s, which started as a small regional chain (initially in Berkeley, I believe). I often went there on weekends to do grading away from my computer. I’d buy a can of leaf tea, a piece of shortbread, and drink the free pot of tea that I got with the purchase of the can of tea leaves. They were one of the few coffee shops that had a decent selection of teas, and they did not turn up the music to painfully loud levels to drive people out (the way that Lulu’s at the Octagon sometimes does). I bought a lot of tea there (probably over 100 cans), but I’ve gradually gotten less and less enamored of the place.
They started being out of shortbread almost every weekend, because the managers weren’t allowed to order the amount they needed—they were shipped a certain amount and that was it. Then they discontinued the shortbread entirely. I never found out whether it was because they couldn’t get a reliable supply, or because only the Santa Cruz store was selling out of it, and in the corporate world you can’t have any differences between branches (uniformity trumps sales in corporate-land).
This fall, they merged with another company and cut their tea selection in half, eliminating some of my favorites and raising the prices substantially on what was left. Given that their tea prices were high to begin with, keeping only the most overpriced teas told me that they did not value their tea-drinking customers. I had heard from the staff that Santa Cruz had one of the highest ratios of tea to coffee of any of the Peet’s stores—not a surprise given how many good coffee shops there are within 2 blocks, and how few of them had a decent tea selection. Getting rid of their one distinction from their rivals struck me as corporate short-sightedness.
So I’ve given up doing my grading at Peet’s and have given up buying their tea. I now bike an extra couple of miles and get bulk tea at Staff of Life (one of the few locally owned grocery stores left in town, and the one with the best bulk selection). My tea is now a quarter the price of what Peet’s charges for their cans of tea leaves. I’m still looking for a new place to grade away from my computer—the breakfast room in my house is not far enough away to avoid distraction.
I mentioned that Staff of Life is a locally owned grocery store, with the best bulk section in town. I don’t shop there much, though, because of the distance away. Most of my grocery shopping is still done at New Leaf, which is a local chain that was sold to an out-of-state chain a couple of years ago (the owner had to step down from his role at Think Local First, and New Leaf Markets had to stop being a member). We shop at New Leaf partly because of the giving program—we use a gift card that we purchase through Alternative Family Education (my son’s former umbrella school for homeschooling), and 5% of what we spend there is donated to the AFE Parent Club. New Leaf is also conveniently located on the Westside and downtown.
The only more conveniently located store for us is the Food Bin, which is only ¼ mile from our house and is still locally owned. We do shop there a fair amount, but they are a tiny store with more snacks than staples, so the selection is a bit limited.
I also shop occasionally (including today) at the oldest independent grocer in town: Shopper’s Corner. They have a good wine buyer, a good butcher shop, and a better selection of European imports than other stores in town, but their Eastside location is a bit inconvenient for me (not as far as Staff of Life, though).
The one big chain I still shop at, though I dislike the place, is Trader Joe’s. They are now primarily a beer and wine store, with a grocery store attached, and do provide good prices on beer and wine. I also buy cereal, cheap chocolate, and soy milk there. I get irritated almost every time I go there, though, by things like the SUV-sized shopping carts, which make the store difficult to move around in even when the store is almost empty (and even though most people are buying only a backpack’s worth of booze and snacks). They also rarely manage to have working shopping carts at the Front Street entrance (the one that has bike parking), but usually have a few scattered around with locked wheels from their anti-theft system.
Today I went in to stock up on soy milk for my son’s coming home for winter break, but the lines at the checkout registers were so long and slow moving that I put the soy milk back on the shelf and left without buying anything. They recently redesigned their checkout counters so that there is no longer any room for putting groceries into bags, and their new credit-card machines are easily twice as slow as their old ones (which were already the slowest in town). I stopped in on my way back from a science-fair presentation at AFE, but the timing was bad—the 5pm rush was in full swing as people got off work. Unfortunately, Trader Joe’s is the only store that carries my son’s favorite soy milk brand (a Trader Joe’s house brand), and soy milks are so different from each other that they are not interchangeable. I’ll go in midday Saturday, when they’ll be less busy, to get the soy milk.
Other than a few purchases at Trader Joe’s and the formerly local chain New Leaf, I’ve pretty much cut out shopping at chain stores and franchises. I sometimes pay a little more to shop at stores that are truly local, sometimes get stuff at a local thrift store (like the last two flannel shirts I bought), or buy stuff online (my electronics hobby mainly involves purchases from distributors like Digi-Key, Mouser, or Jameco, but some stuff directly from China.