Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Businesses need to be open when customers are free to shop

At least once a week on my way to work, I like to veer off of Highway 29 into downtown Kelseyville to pick up a loaf of fresh bread. Main Street Bakery is open early so I make my customary selection, a hearty multi-grain boule, get back into my car and continue on my way to work.

Successful merchants operate during hours that compliment the needs of their customers. One obvious example is the coffee house that, in almost every community, is open early to serve the needs of commuters. The pastry selections may or may not suit your particular preferences but you can always count on a steaming cup of coffee or tea.

Many of these places also have Wi-fi so you can work remotely while you sip.

One of the things I like to do after getting out of church on Sunday is walk around the corner and view the selection of sock yarns at Perlz, which is also in Kelseyville. Unfortunately, many of the businesses that line Main Streets in Lakeport and Kelseyville are locked up tight on Sundays. Our communities look so eerily deserted; no cars line the streets and the store windows are dark -- and yet here my husband and I are, with a rare day of free time on our hands, ready to visit local businesses.

I can understand the challenge of being the sole proprietor of a locally-owned business. No one wants to be open to the public seven days a week without ever taking a day off.

I think local businesses should consider, however, how they can make themselves available during the times potential customers have free, which are mornings, lunchtime, evening hours and weekends. Doing so may require flexibility but I think it is worth the effort.

To their credit, some local businesses already schedule their hours accordingly. I've made the mistake of going, midweek, to buy something from Perlz -- only to belatedly realize that I've shown up during its "weekend." Perlz is closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays. But making that occasional mistake is more than worth it to me, since I know that I can count on Perlz to be open when I'm most free to shop.

One of the things most convenient to me about the Lakeport and Redbud libraries is that they both stay open late, until 8 p.m. each Wednesday. When doing so, their employees' shifts are no longer than on any other day because the libraries open at noon Wednesdays instead of at 10 a.m. How many of our local businesses would consider similar hours at least one or two days a week?

The other challenge to shopping local is availability. I can fully appreciate not being able to find what you want. Part of how I approach this problem is by compiling a mental inventory of items that I am likely to need before I actually need them.

I was pleased to discover one day, during my first visit to Quilted Treasures in Kelseyville, that it stocked Gutermann sewing thread. I made a mental note that I could find it there and I repeatedly go back whenever I am in need of thread.

At other businesses, such as local bookstores, it does not matter if an item is not in stock; a bookstore can always place an order for you and you can purchase the book when it arrives. I've placed special orders through nearly every one of our independently-owned bookstores.

It's unavoidable that there will be things that I cannot obtain locally; in those cases I will shop online or travel "over the hill." But I am constantly adding to my list of items that I know to be available so that I can at least attempt shopping locally before using those other options.

Published Nov. 24, 2009 in the Lake County Record-Bee

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