Buying Local

Looks like a fairly innocuous item, doesn't it? When the blender gasket went missing, we got along without it for a while, but smoothies were getting messy and it was time to take action.

Being a modern woman, I checked online and found a number of small appliance parts suppliers carrying the needed item for seventy-five cents. Being a not-so-modern woman, I couldn't bring myself to cough up $7.00 shipping for a seventy-five cent part! I decided to look locally.

My first stop was the Tru-Value Hardware in Manchester. A friendly fellow looked blank when I described what I was looking for, but wondered if he could order it. I followed him to the back of the store, where another salesperson was intently researching hunting rifles on the one computer. He didn't seem all that happy to interrupt hunting season for a blender gasket, but the screen flipped back and forth between the two disparate items as my fellow thumbed through a huge catalog, suggesting different order numbers which the hunter grudgingly tried. "Hamilton Beach it is? I don't see any of that. What about Sunbeam? Try Sunbeam! Wait, weren't they bought by Oster? Try Oster!" I started to feel like I had stumbled into a not-so-funny segment of the Red Green Show, and when it seemed like a good time to leave, I headed toward the door, promising to return if I didn't have better luck elsewhere. Hopefully they aren't still looking!

My next excursion took me near to Menard's, so I resolved to give it a try. Now who or what is Menard's? A national chain? Home Depot spinoff? Evil twin of Lowe's? Whatever, one of them seemed to have sprung up brightly lit and fully equipped on the near edge of Jackson. Coming back from the dentist, I gave it a whirl.

I don't do well in those kind of stores. Just a few steps inside the store and I was totally sidetracked by a vast array of gardening gloves. I caught myself enmeshed in decisions about what style -- what color -- how many (after all they're 'on sale'!). I grabbed a tried and true pair (and only one) and turned to my business.

I also get lonely in those kind of stores. Walking down the ceiling-tall canyons of consumer goods, I feel like I could get lost and who would ever find me? There do seem to be people who work there, but I don't know if the protocol in those stores actually allows interaction with customers. Looking for a blender gasket amid literally thousands of items was too much like the proverbial needle. I headed for the checkout line.

The checkout gal seemed friendly enough, and, a little miffed at myself for giving up too easily, I determined to at least ask her if Menard's carried blender gaskets. I even had the gasket-less blender part with me to show her. She squinted at it, thought for a minute and replied, "I'm not really sure if we carry those, but if we do, they would be in Plumbing (which was about a mile away on the other end of the store). Why don't you try Cut-Rate Plumbing and Heating right down the road?"

I wasn't encouraged by the name, but I was ready to get out of Menard's. I had to retrace my steps a bit, but it wasn't all that far to reach Cut-Rate, a low shed of a building with a mish-mash of trucks ranged around it. I showed my part to the fellow at the door. He looked, shook his head, and said, "Naah, we're just wholesale here. You gotta try Jackson Appliance."

Well, Jackson Appliance is located almost next to the dentist's from whence I had just come. That seven-dollar shipping charge was starting to look pretty good next to my mounting gas bill. But I was getting stubbornly intrigued by how my quest would end, so off I set back down the road. I handed my blender part to the girl at the desk who took it behind a low wall. A disembodied voice said, "We just have parts for large appliances; this is too small. Try Casler's or the Vacuum Cleaner Hospital."

I happened to know that the V.C. Hospital was truly on the other side of Jackson and edging toward Grand Rapids. Casler's it was, and I told myself this was my last stop.

Jackson is an old and suffering mid-Michigan city. The malls on the fringes are booming, but the central town looks deserted. Little pockets of downtown creative effort are springing up, but it's going to take some patience and persistence. Casler's is right downtown. At one time I'm sure it was at the hub of this city; now with no walking traffic and little drive-by business, I wonder how they make it.

But when I walked into Casler's, I stepped back in time. Here was a hardware store chock full of serious items to build, mend or maintain what you needed. The floor was wooden and sort of rolling. The aisles were intriguingly narrow and labyrinthine. The girl at the door sent me to "the back", where up some steps I saw a few fellows conferring over something that I'm sure was down-to-earth and useful.

But before I got to "the back", another fellow asked if he could help me. Daring to hope just a little, I handed him my blender part. "Oh, Hamilton Beach! Right this way!" I followed him in a dream as we wound through the aisles to a post where a small plastic bag hung. He took down the bag, opened it and extracted one blender gasket - my blender gasket - just the right size!

"How did you know it was Hamilton Beach?"

He smiled.

"I've been looking all over. I even went to Menard's!"

He smiled again. "Now shame on you. Come back and see us again!"

I checked out -- $1.29 and a good lesson learned! And if you're in Jackson, go to Casler's. I'll bet they have what you're looking for!


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