The virtue of big boxes…

I don’t generally spend a lot of time perusing through Salon, but an article ended up in my news feed today that caught my attention. The rise and fall and rise and fall cycle of the American downtown is something I find endlessly fascinating – particularly why some communities can make their stretch of Main Street thrive while others never manage to clear the tumbleweeds.

Today’s article, like so many, place the blame on our friendly neighborhood “big box” retailers. I don’t doubt that they create a business environment where it’s awfully hard for the average corner store to compete. Volume pricing and favorable tax incentives to bring jobs to a community are hard to overcome. The piece that no one ever seems to discuss in detail is the shopping habits of the average American.

Of course I would never consider myself average, but if I use my own experience by way of example I find that the time I want to allocate to shopping for weekly essentials is pretty damned limited. If I go to the magic big box, I can find ample parking and pick up everything from spark plugs to underwear to fresh fruit and be on my way home in well under an hour. If I’d shop for the things on my average weekend list at small local businesses it would take three times that long because I’d have to make at least six separate stops, look for four or five parking spaces, wait to check out six times, and then go somewhere else when one of those retailers doesn’t have a specific item or brand I want. That’s not a slam against small business. It’s just the reality I’ve experienced.

I don’t hate small businesses by any stretch of the imagination, but if they want my business they need to deliver something I can’t find at the big box – there’s a shop here locally that sells fresh roasted coffee of fifty or more separate types and styles. They get my business because I’m willing to suffer a little inconvenience for a superior coffee experience. As for the anything else on my list, it’s not a matter of looking for the best, but rather simply a matter of time. The virtue of the big box is that even if it doesn’t always save me money, it saves me time and that counts for a lot.

Time is the most limited resources any of us have and the less of it I have to spend shopping – whether for bread and eggs or for a new car – the happier I’ll be with the entire process.

House call…

It seems a lot of people working in my office live in a master-planned enclave not far from work. I’m sure it’s nice if you’re into jogging trails, tot lots, and clubhouse where they have a monthly movie night. Lawns are mowed and flowers planted by the Home Owners Association and there’s even a gate to keep out the riffraff. I can’t say I’m philosophically opposed to any of those things, really.

What does make my blood run cold was talking to the new boss a few days ago and him saying “Oh yeah, Mr. Bigwig stopped by the house after dinner last night and we went over some new ideas for Big Fancy Project.” Huh? He came to your house? And then he had the audacity to want to talk about work? Not cool.

I think we’ve established now that I’m not a social climber and there’s a pretty slim chance that I’ll ever get invited to a leadership retreat. I get my work done on time and within tolerance, consistently, and with minimal oversight. I do it for eight hours and then when I leave I don’t think about it until I get back the next morning. It’s a time honored system and it works for me. One of the bosses randomly showing up on my doorstep at 7 o’clock wanting to talk shop is way, way beyond the pale. Sometimes it’s good to be reminded why I live way out off the beaten path rather than in town. It seems physical distance from the office is at least as important as mental distance.

Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of posts previously available on a now defunct website. They are appearing on for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.