Net shopping. Say it ain’t so

Published 8:48 pm Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Trying unsuccessfully to buy a simple cake of shaving soap (yeah, I use a mug and brush) has led me to acknowledge, ever so reluctantly, that the Internet is in many instances becoming a local merchant.

When there was a Simpson’s Pharmacy, you could depend on either finding obscure items like Williams Shaving Soap on the shelf or having a local business owner who was willing to order it for you.

Occasionally, I can still find that and other not-so-popular items on the shelf at local chain stores. But not so often. And just try to get a large chain to special order something for you. The employees are friendly and want to help, but they are bound by company policy and, as a general rule, most of today’s chain stores have a policy that says “If it’s on the shelf, you’re welcome to buy it. If not, don’t ask.”

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Back to the shaving soap. After spending the better part of an hour checking out stores — again — for the product, I did a computer search for “shaving soap,” found an online company that sells it and other related items, and within about two minutes h ad purchased enough cakes to last for the next year or two.

It’s not an inexpensive way of doing business, mind you. Inexpensive items become costly because of shipping. But the savings in time and frustration is worth a few bucks most any day, and it’s becoming more and more frustrating trying to deal with chains that have replaced locally owned stores.

Here’s another example. Last week, my old Seiko watch died and I sent it to the company to be repaired. I pulled out an old Timex to use while waiting and the battery was dead. No store in Smithfield had the battery or seemed to think they could get it. If there had been a Simpson’s close by, there wouldn’t have been a problem. They replaced watch batteries while you waited.

Fortunately, there is still locally owned D.B. Bowles Jewelers store in Suffolk and, yes, they sell watch batteries. And Suffolk’s not all that far to drive if you need a timepiece.

(I realize that part of the immediate problem with the battery is that hardly anybody wears watches anymore, but that’s another subject for another time. Suffice it to say that having to activate a cell phone to check the time isn’t nearly as simple as looking at your wrist.)

We still do have locally owned businesses, of course, and thank goodness for them. If you need hardware, you can very likely find it at True Value, and if you need pet supplies or a variety of other things, there’s Farmers Service, and if there’s something that either of them can order for you, they will. And there are others. And even some chains — Peebles comes to mind — remain accommodating. It’s just that there aren’t nearly as many locally owned businesses selling nearly as many local needs as there once were.

So, I’m raising the white flag. When one of the remaining locally owned stores or chains doesn’t have something I need, I’m just apt to go online rather than spending hours going from one chain store to another in the futile hope that one of them just might have something that will work.