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Column: A tale of two stores

Editor’s note: This column originally published March 26, 2015.

Shop small is a slogan and movement most Iowans understand and strive to live toward. We all find ourselves lost in the 50-aisle maze that is Walmart from time to time, but inside there is a burning desire to support local entrepreneurs.

For those who follow my column this will be a bit of old news, but for first time readers let me bring folks up to speed. My car recently met its demise in twisted metal glory with a $13,000 price tag. The pickup which collided with my parked car in downtown Colfax did so in convincing fashion, leaving it’s three-quarter-ton calling card on my late-Ford Fiesta’s rear end. Needless to say, I’ve been in the market for a car.

First, let me preface my coming statements by saying I am not a critic, nor do I ever intend to review anything except possibly the next installment of “Star Wars” when it’s released in December. But in purchasing a vehicle last week, I discovered a business owner’s level of involvement in daily operations matters.

I bought a certified used Chevy Cruze to replace my defunct automobile. It has low mileage, a midnight blue paint job and the price was right. But it was my locally-owned shopping experience that truly made the difference.

I worked with two car dealers in my search. Both hold deep routed history in the Des Moines area, and have quite recognizable names. One is still a single owner/family business, while the other was sold in the past decade and now has corporate ownership. The newly-corporate dealer was the place my family purchased vehicles for decades. My grandparents would look no where else to find their pickups and touring cars. But after its sale, the new management laid off some of the old guard, including a salesman who sold my family over 15 cars throughout his career. I was not surprised when I began my search that this particular dealership was not communicative and quite pushy when they would return my calls.

I actually began to search for vehicles a week prior to the accident, and it was only after the collision — when the sales clerk knew I needed transpiration quickly — that he began to relentlessly call. Prior to this revelation, he always seemed to be too busy on the lot for my voice message.

The family-owned dealer was different. The young 20-something who approached me while I peered through the slightly tinted window of my Cruze was pleasant and relatable . We joked about being collegiate rivals; me a Hawkeye he a Cyclone. We laughed about his post-college living arrangement, sharing a house with a few friends to save money. It reminded me my not-so-long-ago Iowa City house shared with my brother and good buddy.

The finance guy was realistic with me and made no false promises. He was a quasi-retired old-timer who reminded me of my girlfriend’s dad. I appreciated his candor. He even offered to schedule a meeting with the dealership owner if I would like to discuss the car with him prior to the purchase. For me, that was a first.

But that’s shopping small. When you buy local — whether it’s a car, groceries or a vintage/rustic knickknack —you know where your product originates. Shopping local means knowing how and where your food was grown, the dreams of the kid who stocked the shelf and the college of your car dealer.

In Iowa and in Jasper County we are surrounded by folks who’ve rented a small building on the town square to live their dream of self-reliance and own a business in which they believe. Find your comfort zone and shop small.

Contact Mike Mendenhall

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