The other day I was in the check-out line at the grocery store and overheard a conversation.
The lady in front of me asked the cashier, “What other stores are you affiliated with?”
The cashier responded, “King’s, on Spring Street.”
“No, I mean what other big stores are you connected with?” At this point, the woman had her wallet out and looked ready to pull out a shopping card for just about any store named.
“We aren’t affiliated with any,” the bewildered cashier told her.
The woman looked a bit flustered, as if she couldn’t believe there were grocery stores around that didn’t play with the big boys.
But that’s how it is in Friday Harbor. There are no big box stores, no chains, although there are a few locally-owned franchises, such as Ace and Radio Shack, and the locals seem to prefer it that way. In 2010 a local couple tried to get a Subway franchise established; oh, lordy, did the greater populace howl! Fast food chains in particular are the bad boys as far as most locals are concerned, and they don’t want them here in Friday Harbor, destroying the unique character of the town.
Yes, being completely independent does not give local businesses any buying power; as a consequence, the prices they pay are higher, and the prices we as consumers pay are higher. But in general, the locals understand that they need to spend at least some of their money locally to keep the economy strong and help local businesses; after all, these are their neighbors and friends; these are the people who contribute to the local non-profits and school fundraisers. Yet, on-line shopping for items we cannot purchase here becomes a way of life, and keeps the Aeronautical Services (delivery service for UPS) trucks busy.
No, we don’t have the buying cards and inexpensive goods like the big chain retailers and grocers. But what we do have are unique stores featuring merchandise selected for this town and this market, and store owners who can respond to changes and requests immediately – there’s no corporate red tape to plow through. A suggestion to a local store owner or manager to carry a certain product almost always results in the product being on the shelves in a few weeks. Restaurants have menus that reflect local tastes; lodging accommodations reflect historical aspects of Friday Harbor and the personal taste of the owners.
Without the repetitive chain businesses seen in every town and shopping mall, we also have a strong sense of individuality, and we like to keep it that way.