Help Me to Help You

I’ve been drinking tea throughout my life. I went through a brief coffee phase, but even then I would drink oolong after big meals, herbal tea on cold winter nights, Lapsong Soochong to wake up on bitter mornings. Tea of all shapes and forms has been a part of my life since I could consume liquids, so it should come as no surprise that my very first purchase when I moved into a studio apartment of my very own over the alley near Laurel Street was a tea kettle. I remember I had about $30 to my name after paying the rent, and I had almost no food, but by Pete, I needed a tea kettle, so I walked over to Coast to Coast and bought one.

It was a cheap tin job, enameled with white paint. $12.99.

Almost immediately, it acquired a thin layer of grease from resting on the stove top, and the paint started to bubble a bit. Over time, soot deposits formed, from where things dropped on the burner burned while I heated tea water. Every now and then I would cover it in Bon Ami and scrub it, and it would look respectable for a few days before fading again. That tea kettle followed me through three other houses, to the house on Franklin Street, and then the house in San Francisco, and now here.

Recently I have noticed that my back burner plate, where the tea kettle sits, is rusting out. It took me awhile to realize the truth, a realization confounded by denial: my $12.99 tea kettle was leaking. Badly. Crusty mineral deposits had formed on the bottom, but I could clearly see that water was trickling out, and last night, it came to a head. I reluctantly deposited it in the recycling bin and heated water in a pot on the stove.

Now, given that I have more than $30 to my name, I set out this morning to find a nice, mid-range tea kettle, preferably solid steel, no enamel or paint to bubble off, something simple and solid that would last. First I went to Coast to Coast. There was my old painted friend, along with an even cheesier $9.49 tea kettle (don’t ask), and then a really nice Oxo Good Grips tea kettle, solid steel, silicone handles…$80. Not pure steel, so not exactly what I wanted, but a nice tea kettle. You can see it here if you want to know what I’m talking about.

Ok, so, not. I don’t mind spending a lot of money on products of good quality, but that tea kettle simply wasn’t worth it. I’d scanned the Internet to get an idea of reasonable price ranges last night, and I had estimated that I would find a solid tea kettle that met my specifications for around $40. No biggie, I thought, I’ll swing by Headlands, they have tea kettles.

Yes, they do. One. A very nice copper bottomed one, for $110.

I even considered electric tea kettles, which are more energy efficient and way faster. However, they aren’t as cheery and friendly and solid as regular tea kettles, and the good ones cost over $50, which is more than I want to spend.

I poked around a bit more before I admitted defeat: despite my ardent desire to shop locally, I couldn’t. My local stores did not carry what I wanted. The one thing that I found that sort of met my specifications was extremely overpriced; $20 over the manufacturer’s recommended price, in fact. Now, I’m all about buying local. I think it’s really important to support local stores, and I do so wherever I can.

But I was stymied today.

I got home, went on Amazon, and found exactly what I wanted, so I ordered it. It should be here in a few days, and soon my stove will have a cheerful kettle sitting on it again. I started to feel mildly guilty about not shopping locally, but then I decided that it’s not my responsibility. I tried to shop locally. I was even willing to pay a small markup to shop locally. But local stores were unable to help me to help them survive.

I get a lot of lecturing about buying local, complete with signs in the windows and exhortations from business owners. But I can’t buy clothing that fits me here. I can’t find bras locally which accommodate my personal needs. I can’t find the sheets and towels that I want here. I can’t buy the digital camera I want locally. The only consumer product I buy here is shoes, because Northsoles is awesome.

The only other thing I buy locally these days is food, and I happen to think that’s the most important thing to buy locally, so that’s a good thing. But it’s really frustrating that I can’t support my community by shopping in it, that my own community has essentially tied my hands. I’m not a demanding shopper, and I’m willing to make reasonable accommodations, but I won’t buy something I don’t want just to shop locally, especially if that something is insanely overpriced. Fortunately I can support my community in other ways, by donating to charities and volunteering my time, for example, but I would like to put money into the hands of local business owners, and people I know, rather than faceless companies.

Come on, people. You want people to buy local, put your stock where your mouth is, and give me a reason to shop locally. I already want to do it, I just need you to enable me. Try having polite, friendly clerks who are helpful rather than surly. Try spending less time bashing me over the head with your “buy local” rhetoric and more time paying attention to what people want.

You know why Cowlicks succeeds? Because the Jensens realized that people wanted ice cream, so they built an ice cream store. You know why Understuff stays in business? Because they realized that people were driving to Santa Rosa to buy panties. Now, Understuff doesn’t quite carry what I want, but it does carry what lots of other locals want, and that makes them a valued local establishment. These businesses found a niche and ran with it. Makes me want to start a sheets/towels/plus sized clothing/tea kettle store, maybe on the corner where Mendocino Vintage used to be.

Our town cannot survive if I am forced to order tea kettles over the internet.

One Reply to “Help Me to Help You”

  1. Hello whoever you are! I just wanted to thatnk you for the nice words about Understuff (my store). I truely appreciate it! I always work on the weekends, so why don’t you let me rise to your challenge to find exactly what you are looking for? Again I thank you!!! Denise Parrott

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