Two Brothers Swimming Against the Amazon: Rochester’s Village Lamp Shop

Don’t tell me you haven’t done it–found something in a store, then guiltily taken out your phone to find a better deal on Amazon, Craig’s List or eBay. You could argue with your guilty ol’ self and say that in the days before apps, it was similar to heading into the tire store with a newspaper add of a competitor’s price and asking them to beat it.  But now, you just have to click the little button and the over-stressed Amazonians are already whisking down their sweatshop canyons of shelves to get your order out the conveyor belt before you reach your car–with the retail owner, like your dog at the beginning of your work day, watching and your “Buy American” bumper sticker roll away. In the early 1960s, Tom Beuthien was called in for the unheard of–an exit interview at Ford Tractor.  “Nobody ever leaves Ford,” he was told by the bewildered HR guy…. Read More…

Garage Sale Ethics: Lessons Learned Over 40 Years

It’s like a slow-motion drive-by shooting, only less friendly.  They are the dealers—the arch-enemy of the true garage-saler. You’re sitting on your lawn-chair beside three coffee makers, two toaster ovens and half an illegal lawn jart set. Your garage sale just opened at 9 AM. You know it’s 9 AM because the dealers have been knocking on your door for a solid hour. “Do you mind if I take a quick look?” “I’ve got to take my son to daycare, but I’d love to see what you’ve got.” “Come on, you’re up anyway! Open up!” For the rest of that Friday morning and into the afternoon, you’ll get to relive that wonderful grade school feeling of being passed over for the kickball. Cars crawl by and decide if you’re worth choosing or not. Some drivers might politely nod, some avoid eye contact. Some just stare at you like you’re trying… Read More…

Making People Feel Like Dummies: Swimming the Treacherous Waters of Sheldons

I’ve had some pretty memorable conversations at the checkout counter at Radio Shack: “So you need a male-to-male connector…” (I was fourteen, buying some cables for my stereo–a bit startled by this apparent pickup line.) “Can I please have your address?” (Perhaps another line, but I was just paying cash.) And my favorite, when I was buying a 25-foot audio cable… “May I ask what you’ll be using this for?” The guy was implying that purchasing an audio cable to run video through a non-gold-plated triple-insulated cable may not only ruin the quality of my picture but perhaps offset the precarious balance of the Middle East peace talks. “Thank you for shopping with us…dummy.” Radio Shack has survived, somehow, by cornering the market of oddball technical needs at crazily marked up prices.  And, with the development of any specialty, there comes the inevitable feeling of invincibility and irreplaceablilty.  I’ve seen… Read More…

Micro Toy, Big Disappointment

I go into FedEx a lot. At every FedEx in the country, they place these really unhealthy snacks at the counter. Namely, those really good-looking but surely-disappointing white chocolate covered pretzels, Flipz, are always sitting at the counter for purchase. They are strategically placed, of course, so that when a busy businessman or woman waiting in line at FedEx sees those bags of Flipz he or she will say to him or herself: “Damn. I am hungry. Those look delicious. Convenient. Unhealthy, sure, but I deserve it! Might as well…” And every time I am in a FedEx, I see those Flipz and I think: “I’m better than those people. I am fighting the urge. I won’t succumb to the man–to the subconscious of business and consumerism.” And I never do.  BUT, the other day I came across the most genius item placed at the end of a checkout line that… Read More…

K-Mart Kharma: Cheapskates Beware!

Why wouldn’t I trust her?  We’d known one another for nearly a dozen minutes. “We’re out of the 39″ RCAs; but these ones have never been returned the whole time I’ve been manager here.” My son and I had pooled our money, bided our time and were now going to reap the benefits of our savings and patience.  The small northern Michigan town of Charlevoix was probably one of the few locations for a K-Mart I would dare enter the day after Thanksgiving. I figured even if the entire town was in the store at 10am, it still would have been less crowded than a metro Detroit mall on a regular weekend.  So as I stood in front of twenty flatscreens, with the same determined looking ignorance men generally save for arms-crossed stares under the hoods of stalled cars, my son gave me the benefits of his research.  LEDs vs…. Read More…

Perhaps the “F” and “Y” stand for something else…

I might as well have said, “The crow flies at midnight.” It felt that cloak-and-dagger. “Can I help you, sir?” asked the manager. “Hi.  I just want to cancel my membership.” She frowned, nodded, walked behind the counter, grabbed a coupon and wrote on the back of it, handed it to me and immediately walked away. I looked in my hand and there it was.  The first step on my long journey out of The Stupid Tax. Financial expert Dave Ramsey has some great stories of how we’ve all made some silly decisions that end up costing us lots and lots of money. My Stupid Tax story began over a year ago when I was picking up a number of DVDs for a project.  I needed to get short clips of some classic films and couldn’t find what I needed at the library or the local Blockbusters (which may have… Read More…

Amazon, My Guilty Conscience and the Decline of Detroit Shopping

I was waiting for some photos to get developed at Meijer–a Michigan-based store where I had done my shopping since they opened in 1977, a short bike ride from my house. It was an enormous place–“Thrifty Acres” they called themselves. Even now, when I walk through the produce area, I remember where the record and 8-track department was. I can still see the “Saturday Night Fever” and “Grease” cardboard mobiles hanging from the drop ceiling. My favorite memory is the foot-long plastic containers that encased the 8-tracks to discourage shallow-pocketed shoplifters. Meijer also carried darkroom chemicals in their own specialized photo store, inside one of the acres. It was a pretty cool place for a kid creating a darkroom under the basement stairs. I felt naturally drawn down the photo aisle, almost smelling those foul developers, fixers and stop bath solutions I used to mix up in the laundry tub…. Read More…