Shoe Money Tonight

Occasional ramblings by an anesthesiologist/mother (and sometimes her husband).

Monday, October 22, 2007

Local for the Sake of Local

One of the earliest advances of civilized society is that of division of labor. It's not possible for everyone to make everything they need. Some, therefore, do some things and others do others.

There is a more important advantage to division of labor - concentration of skill. People who are good at something are free to do a lot of it. People who are lousy at it can just do something else. You can even concentrate people who are good at something together for the sake of efficiency.

"Support Local Business" is a good guideline, but shouldn't be a suicide pact. I love to give local Mom & Pop places a try. If they want to keep my business, however, they need to offer me a better product, or a better price, or a better selection, better service, more convenience or some sort of other real advantage. We go to Valint's for meat, for example, because they offer great price, selection, and quality.

In some cases, however, places use their "local" status as a crutch. Take for example, one of the many annoyances of the hellish year I spent in what passes for a History Department at the University of Buffalo. There were a large number of professors who refused to order their textbooks through the bookstore. They instead used a local shop called "Talking Leaves." This place has prices which made the bookstore look like the dollar store, and a selection of books which ranged from hippie to Stalinist in their subject matter.

What was worse, moreover, was that they were in a lousy location with no parking. I remember watching one graduate student, who walked with a cane, take the bus from UB North to South Campus, hobble across a busy street, and then go down several blocks of broken sidewalk just to get a textbook. Absolutely ridiculous.

There were rumors that the professors were receiving kickbacks from this place. They openly voiced disdain for large chain bookstores. But guess what? The large chain stores offered much better prices, selection, convenience, etc.

There is a long-running cliché about large stores coming into areas and "forcing" the mom and pop places out of business.

Buffalo Bagels.

Mom and pop places that offer value in one form or another stay in business. Those who don't, quite frankly, deserve to die. This is what's known to economists as redistribution of resources to more productive sectors of the economy.

Buffalo in particular is home to a large number of home-grown chains. We have a number of places which have grown due to their great quality, and can now be found everywhere. Ted's Hot Dogs, Anderson's Roast Beef and Frozen Custard, and to a smaller extent La Nova, Bagel Jay's, and several other places have thrived due to the quality of what they offer.

PIzza is the classic example. I cannot recall the name of the particular tome, but about 10 years ago someone was compiling a national guidebook. This guidebook was designed to give a general idea about various places around the nation. In their research, they decided that Buffalo was not a big pizza town. Apparently they were looking at national pizza chains.

As far as pizza chains go: Pizza Hut and Domino's have a few sporadic locations, none of which are within the city limits. There was a single Little Caesar's up until about 10 years ago. Papa John's does not exist. Sbarro's finally made it from Thruway rest stops to mall food courts about 5 years ago. If there are any other national pizza chains, I have never heard of them.

Meanwhile, the pizza section of the phone book is 10 pages long. Even in the most rural parts of Erie County, you are never more than a mile away from a mom & pop pizza place. National chains can't survive because they suck.

This is to say nothing about wings. At the risk of repeating myself: Buffalo Wings do not exist. If you're in Buffalo, you do not call them Buffalo Wings. If you're outside of Buffalo, you don't know how to make them.

Other chains have garnered niches despite the quality. Spot Coffee, for example, used to be our hangout when we were in college. In those days their Delaware & Chippewa location was open 24 hrs. I still remember the look of shock we all had the first time we ever saw it closed. At that time it was closed for renovations.

It eventually went downhill. The coffee was never very good. It was the same charcoal-masquerading-as-"dark-roast" crap which every high price coffee shop sells. What sold it was the atmosphere. That atmosphere changed, but it still has a large enough following to maintain a few locations. It also supplies coffee to a number of other local establishments, including Bagel Jays.

Now, we come to what inspired this rant. I should start by saying that there's no way this particular chain could have gotten as large as it is if there were not a large number of people who were happy with their food. ES1 & I simply happen to not be a part of that group.

I refer, as you may have guessed, to Mighty Taco.

Mighty Taco has a rabid following around these parts. There are Mighties everywhere. I could personally never understand why. Today, I gave it another shot. ES1 likes having a selection of chicken or vegetarian foods. This selection is limited at Mighty. Their beef, moreover, just tastes strange. It's really closer to chunky grease than beef. What's worse, I ordered my Taco hot. I didn't realize they used the Albany version of the Scoville Scale.*

Granted, my experience is limited. I have, however, been thoroughly unimpressed every time I've tried it. We actually prefer Taco Bell. We find the selection and taste to be far superior. Mighty may be a nice local company, but we just don't like their product. Mighty has survived just fine without our business for many years. I'm sure they will continue to do so.

Supporting local places is a good idea if they're worth supporting. If your local mom & pop shop gives you a reason to come in and spend money, then by all means do so. Business, however, is not charity. Don't go somewhere because "you should support local places." If they're a good place, they'll give you a reason to come in. If you don't feel compelled to come in and spend money, don't waste your time. If someone can't compete, they need to find a different line of work. No economy can afford to be swamped with people and companies who just aren't very good at what they do. That's just not good for anyone.

*There are many levels of hot. There is standard American hot. Above that is Buffalo hot. Above that is Indian hot. Above that is real Indian hot. Our friend Caitlyn best described what would be "Super Ultra Mega Unbelievably Hot" in Albany as "almost mild, but not quite as spicy."[back]


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mighty Taco is not only bad food, but it is owned by a racist and possible crook. His daughter is a racist and is a convicted felon from scamming people out of $170,000 (from a company he invested in) and $12,000 in taxes. He still supports her financially. No one should go there.

11:12 PM  
Blogger Obi-Wandreas, The Funky Viking said...

That's interesting. I had actually not heard any of that before. A Google search on the name didn't help. Any chance you could post a link to a news article or source?

Thank you.

6:20 AM  

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