When I first met the owner of Videophile in the Tarrytown Centre plaza last fall, she told me that hers had once been one of three video stores between Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown. After 25 years in four different locations, Kanwal Sharma's shop was the last remaining…and sure to close soon.
Her attitude about the inevitably of the closing saddened me. But not enough to stop me from upping my Netflix membership from one DVD at a time to two. No brick-and-mortar store can compete with the ease of choosing virtually any movie in existence, delivered to my mailbox within days for a mere $13.99 a month.
I returned to Videophile before Christmas hoping I'd find some old Muppets DVDs for my daughter, but she didn't have any. Would I like VHS?, she offered. Sorry…
Fast forward to July 11, the last day of her going-out-of-business sale. Did anyone but she and her family even notice? Probably not. I felt too sheepish – guilty even – to say goodbye.
In Brooklyn in 2004, I opened an "arts lounge" serving exclusively New York state wine and beer, a plan which limited both my clientele (a bit) and my profit margin (a lot). Needless to say, New York state wine and beer ranks not among the world's finest or cheapest. So call me stubborn, or stupid. But I was a proud and hard-working small business owner for five years of the most mom-and-pop (without the pop) variety, so I deeply relate to the trials of those rare birds among this seemingly dying breed.
Here I am now giddily re-situated in Sleepy Hollow – lighter without the business, heavier with one child and another on the way – and I have tried to recreate the local-centric life I had in the city. I write from home; I work at the farmers' market; I walk everywhere (behind a stroller); and I do my darndest to support town business. Sometimes I'll buy something I don't even want, or go to restaurant that I know isn't that great in fear that it might too shut down if I don't help. On occasion, I'm even willing to pay much more here for what I know to be cheaper elsewhere.
And therein lies the problem: on occasion. If money weren't tight, there'd be no moral dilemma; I'd always opt for paying more at the local store. But as any cash-strapped commoner knows, sometimes the bottom line really does matter. Especially for items I need again and again, like milk and…anything from Home Depot.
I understand times change and perhaps some businesses deserve to shut down. But I'd rather have Tony's Pizza (tax evasion and all) over the Subway coming soon, Main Street Sweets over Baskin' Robbins, farmers' market over C-Town, Eyebuzz Gallery (defunct as of yesterday!) over no Eyebuzz.
My preferences and my actions, though, are often necessarily at odds. Especially when there's a buy-one-get-one-free coupon or a $5 sub promotion luring to me to a chain. (And what person of average means can really buy fine art these days?)
I guess what helps here to justify my shopping hypocrisy is none of these chains feel bad. It's not like I'm going to an ugly strip mall, or the Costco at the uglier I-87 toll plaza in Yonkers. A small storefront franchise is still a mom-and-pop, of a sort, albeit without the unique character and spirit. An undeniable big-box exception to this might be my Home Depot habit, but the ride there, curving past the Tarrytown Lakes, is just so pleasant.