It began with a spool of thread, and a question of where to buy it. There used to be a lot of choices. There were local stores dedicated to sundries. Department stores like Hengerer’s and Sattler’s here in Buffalo all had notions departments. National stores like Woolworth’s, Penney’s, Neisner’s and Grant’s were known for such items. Now we are left with monoliths like JoAnn’s and Walmart.
“Buy local” and “locavore” are words I often hear in the food world. It is something to strive for when within your means. You cannot think of this without remembering what has been lost.
I love locally raised meats, and pasturers such as T-Meadow Farm in Lockport. One impediment they have faced is a dearth of area USDA-approved processing facilities. To my knowledge there are only two left, not necessarily the best for providing satisfactory cuts for resale on a regular basis. Shipping livestock to Pennsylvania for butchery as an alternative is not good for the bottom line.
Things are looking brighter on that front, but what about our everyday needs? Butchers remain, but they are few. The days of sides of beef hanging in the locker are mostly over. Yes, they are happy to special order, but it is not the same. We have convinced ourselves that meats and the like should be boneless and skinless, mounted on platters of Styrofoam, layered in self-serve cases.
Megastores, technology, central distribution and low-wage off-shoring have all contributed, but we are to blame as well. We have become a society of disposers. The small appliance repair shops are gone. Remember Shields Bros. on Main Street? It had been around as a family business since 1946 – the kind of place you brought your mixer to when it broke. It was repaired quickly and inexpensively, and without the hassle of shipping. Now we just buy a new toaster or blender when it breaks.
Stationery stores are gone, and printing shops diminished. If I were still practicing law, I’d get my cards and stationery printed. Engraved cards with raised lettering, good stock and crisp edges are a sign of professionalism.
Though big-box hardware stores are the norm, I still patronize Ed Young’s. It has items you can’t get elsewhere anymore, like blender gaskets. Remember when all stores had those hanging near their appliances? If you need a replacement wick for your oil lamp, you’d better head to Vidler’s.
Where can you get a hat blocked or a shoe fitted? Where do you buy a ladies handkerchief? Haberdasher. Milliner. Notions. Dry goods. Mercer. Clothier. Confectioner. Stationer. Cobbler. Bookseller. Bootery. The local ones are becoming a thing of the past. My fondness for such stores is personal as well as practical. My grandfather owned a toy and novelty store in Rochester. I still remember its shelves stocked with merchandise. There are even a few reminders around my home. There is no longer a place for shops like that.
This is not mere nostalgia, as in remembering the milkman who delivered to your door. Milk at the supermarket is still milk. We have traded convenience and familiarity for marvels I only dreamed of as a child. Are we better off or worse for all this progress?
It reminds me of that great line from “Inherit the Wind”: “Mister, you may conquer the air but the birds will lose their wonder and the clouds will smell of gasoline.”