20 August, 2006

Why It Matters Where We Shop

May 2006

When I was a child, my stepmother taught me “shopping is a political action.”
That concise little adage has pursued me through the years, making my sporadic visits to Wal-Mart and Starbucks a guilty affair. What she said makes sense. We spend a whole lot of time consuming. Because of this, I realize the process of shopping is sometimes more important then the product itself.
This proves itself in the rise of the marketing and selling of experience or lifestyle. When we have more than we need, how should we then live? I could begin a soapbox on the evils of the consumer superpower, how we have doomed ourselves to a life of dwindling diversity, whilst drowning in a sea of consumer possibility.
But everybody talks about that stuff these days. I would rather keep on the sunny side. Let us seek out what we can do in our daily lives to be bona fide supporters of our community while supporting a smart shift from an industrial (product) society to a lifestyle society.
This begins at home. My home is the Verde Valley, soon to be Cottonwood. Cottonwood is a bedroom community to nowhere in particular. It is a main street town built for folks traveling on to somewhere else. (Except that people stop here, and build houses.) So, now that we are all here, what are we going to do about ourselves? In the old days, people would up and leave their towns after the economic boom was over or the natural resource was tapped. So what do you do as a community when the natural resource is lifestyle? I reckon you live.
While the Verde valley is a natural beauty I find most of Cottonwood is visually unappealing. Generally, its development reads like a street yanked out of a Phoenix phonebook. It has been planned with an outdated sunbelt city mentality, which focuses on cheap growth as opposed to long standing sustainability.
Let’s just say the town’s redemption is not readily apparent … But that is the charm of the town … You have to seek out the heart of the community by passing the big box franchises.
This applies socially as well. You need to know the community and the individuals working hard to make this town thrive beyond what lines one’s pocketbooks. The intrinsic value is what gives a community heart. Without it, it will dry up and blow away. This is my point in supporting small business. It might be a pain sometimes, but it builds a sense of belonging, and keeps profits in the community. Cottonwood would lack social capital without its independently owned businesses, and those dedicated to supporting them. Without the spirit of entrepreneurship, the Verde Valley would be another Prescott Valley.

Social capital is an interesting way of defining the act of coming together and networking. We value physical and human capital pretty freely, and should value the power of reciprocity and involvement as well.
In 1916 L.J. Hanifan a State Supervisor for rural schools in West Virginia coined the importance of “social capital” as: “Those tangible substances that count for most in the daily lives of people: namely good will, fellowship, sympathy, and social intercourse among the individuals and families who make up a social unit … The community as a whole will benefit by the cooperation of all its parts, while the individual will find in his associations the advantages of the help, the sympathy, and the fellowship of his neighbors.”
While, yes this sentiment was written a long time ago, there is a timeless need for this sort of thinking today. According to author and political annalist, Robert D. Putman, social capital is built from political, civic, and religious involvement, connectedness at work, and informal connections.
Which supports my stepmother’s point. Shopping is a political action. Not only does your act of consumption affect global economy, it affects our local society.

I spoke with local business owner Peter Lupu about the social and economic necessity of independent business. Mr. Lupu and Anne Freitag own the independent coffee shop, Planet Java on Hwy 89A. He had a lot to say about the crucial importance of the independent business.
“Chains and franchises try to avoid everything that is a function of human differences. Automation. Automation is eliminating human differences in the production of their product because it is more efficient. Small businesses, however, inevitably bring in the perspective of their owners, a mirror of the character of their owners. They allow more human variation. The problem with corporate or chain businesses are that a large portion of their revenue is channeled through the headquarters outside the community.
Where small businesses, for many reasons, tend to keep the money in the community, because that is their customer base. Chains and large businesses tend to structure their business in a uniform fashion because it is more efficient. Big box chains calculate their earnings by sales per square foot.”
On a social level, Mr. Lupu explains that a community needs small businesses to ensure diversification of power and to enrich the community. He maintains small business policies and goals are determined by local interest — a grassroots checks and balances, if you will.
“A community’s identity is reflected by the type of businesses it has. What is it to distinguish one town from the next?” Diversity is important because; it makes consuming more “enriching if you interact with different people…People have a chance to utilize their shopping time learning and having a unique experience. In small business you can not afford to only look at the performance. You have to measure (success) by personal interaction. Chains attract business by what they have in common. Small business attracts customers by what distinguishes them.”
Mr. Frietag and Ms. Lupu intend on their coffee shop becoming an intellectual hub where one can enjoy fair trade, organic, shade-grown coffee made by a human being. One can also use the internet, log on to Wi-Fi, and have meetings in their quiet back lounge area. There is an onsite bakery as well. I am trying to convince them to bake wheat and gluten-free goodies. The couple is also working on hosting discussion groups, poetry readings, and a book club introduced into the weekly schedule. Lupu is a former philosophy professor, and Frietag a former teen center director who is pursuing her MA in Public Administration.

I am moving. As I pack my Cornville bags, and move to the burgeoning metropolis of Cottonwood, I find sentimentality in what I will be leaving behind. Cornville has always gotten slack from its earnest and corny name, but has held its own as an independent community up against the forces of Sedona. I spent time in the namesake as a child, going to rodeos and watching cowboys drink Boone’s Farm in trailer houses. It was the last of the ranch land, relatively untouched for years.
But the community has changed. Currently, it is the second most expensive place to buy land around here after Sedona. People want to build second and third homes in Cornville and Page Springs. Fat folks sit out on their patios, smiling at their near escape from the Phoenix Metro area and beyond. I leave, and I look fondly on its terrain and its funky shops and services. I think about how I can connect readers to authentic consumer opportunities that build capital. The Verde Valley has a plethora of independently owned businesses the community could support, but I can only speak for the few I frequent.
First off, when you live in Cornville you have to go to the Cornville Market and the Cornville Mercantile. I like to traverse the Market, due to their diesel discount and local proximity. The folks that work there are real. A plus is that they aren’t forced to wear uniforms, and they don’t seem to be on crack. When I go in, the people engage me in a little friendly conversation, and make me feel that I am a part of life.
Down the porch is the Cornville Mercantile, perhaps one of the last genuine feed and seed/hardware stores in the damn universe. Owner Raymond Young shared a good point in support of local small businesses, “If you don’t support your local store when you don’t need them, they won’t be there when you do need them.” My ma faithfully buys her birdseed there. I told Raymond that, and he seemed thankful.
Across the street lives Vince’s Little Star. Do I need to expound on this little gem that gets all lit up at night like a vaudevillian marquee? The place is an adventure. Go there to eat Italian food, look at kitschy lamps, and listen to the staff yell at each other.
You also have the infamous Casey’s Corner. It has lost a bit of its tarnished charm since the bar closed down, but they have hitching posts and a caboose that one should not detour. I remember the days I used to walk a mile for a machine-operated cappuccino and some beef jerky. Casey’s also sells you limes and lemons. And is perfect for a soda in the summer. Down the street is the odd and tasty Manzeneta Inn which serves a pretty good selection of German entrees. The sure draw is the eccentric grandma décor.
Last, but not least on my Cornville list is the Page Springs Winery, owned by Eric Glomski. This is my favorite winery ever. This is a winery that belongs in our best wishes of a winery. This is sort of place that my friends and I would want to run. It is family owned, and well managed. The place overlooks the creek, and produces good wine for a fair price. It is folksy and arty; and the owner seems dedicated to homespun business. Maynard Keenan, from the band, A Perfect Circle produces a line of wine out at this winery. Last time I bought a bottle, I saw a bunch of Goth kids getting out of their car to ogle the joint. Perhaps they were hoping to get a touch of Maynard by uncorking a bottle?
I am in the process of moving back to Old Town after leaving 12 years ago. I have always had an undistinguishable love for the place, despite its shabby, one street, tumbleweed feel. Perhaps that is why I love it. I have lived in some extraordinary cities, but find the dusty simplicity of the district to compare with nothing else. I like its lack, and see its final days of purity before gentrification; this makes the area even more appealing. My favorite places to go in Cottonwood and Clarkdale are: The Clarkdale Antique Emprium, owned by Maria Montiel and Mike Roeller. The Emporium is a prime example of a Mom & Pop business. This is where all the Verde Valley hipsters shop. Montiel and Roeller serve up icecream sundies and excellent vintage wares. Maria likes old school roller skates and Mike looks like a greaser ready to drag race. I workout at Valley Athletic because they have a sauna, and the gym is in Old Town. When I want to go out I like to head to Kactus Kate’s to watch people sing their bloody hearts out to the karaoke machine crowd. As I have mentioned in previous articules, this is my nemesis bar. We all need nemesis establishments that we come into contact with from time to time. I find it generally pleasing to wander the back streets of the Old Town neighborhoods at night. Let us say the risk of running into a weirdo on a dark street at night adds to the local color, yet I am thankful I will be moving into a neighborhood that has an active neighborhood watch (Which is a fabulous example of social capital, thank you very much!)
So, in my small way, I am supporting family sentiment by taking the time to support independent establishments. I would not want anyone else to be replaced by
dystopian automation due to my apathy. Starbucks is already well on their way.

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