Friday, June 17, 2011

Making better choices

It's rainy again - and I'm not in a terribly good mood, so hopefully you'll forgive me if this sounds a bit more strident than usual.

When we opened the store, we assumed that we could make it through the early years by relying on the support of our fairly large extended families and network of local friends.  That turned out to be a huge miscalculation, as we rarely see family or old friends shop at our store.  A few drop by for an occasional loaf of bread or quart of milk, but it's infrequent, at best.  The upside to this is that we have met an astounding array of folks, from all walks of life, full time residents and not, who are committed to the idea of localism, and support what we are trying to do in Medusa.  Their influence has shaped the kind of place the store has become, and continues to guide us as we plan for the future.  Most days, to be lucky enough to be a part of this, is exhilarating.

Still, on the heels of a pretty rough week, I'm feeling like it won't offend too many if I point out some hard truths.

How this place exists, how we get by from day to day, remains a bit of a miracle, if you can picture a miracle in my agnostic, fuzzy way.  When you ask me how the business is going, I usually smile and cheerfully report some good news.  The truth is, which doesn't come to any surprise to our closest friends and supporters, is that it is a daily struggle.  One of us is here every day, every hour we are open, which is pretty close to being every waking hour.  Frankly, I think Jason and I can count on one hand the times our whole, little family has been together, not at the store, in the past year.  The Medusa General Store has meant a lot of sacrifices, and sometimes it is just plain hard.

I am telling you this because when I insist that you shop local, it isn't because I think it is some vague idea - it is reality to us.  And I am not so much complaining, as trying to explain that this is a labor of love, a public service more than a profit yielding enterprise.  I have a PhD - and not a mail order one; one that took me 11 long years, through the births of three children, to complete, in a competitive, high-demand program - and Jason is skilled in a number of technical fields, and has been involved in a dizzying array of projects and ventures for many years.  We could be doing lots of other things - and it wouldn't be hard to make more money than what we're making here.

And what we are doing is as important as how and why we are doing it - I don't call us western Albany County's whole foods corner store for nothing.  We are trying to be your source for local and organic fresh, frozen, and dry goods groceries in the Hilltowns, filling a gap left by the Rensselaerville co-op.  So when I hear local folks insisting that they can only get good quality organic products by driving into Albany, I admit to finding it deeply frustrating.  Do you know that the Albany whole foods stores get their products from the very same distributor (and often on the very same truck!) that we get ours from?  And really, you have a much better deal here - not only do I happily pass along any sale prices I can get, I also am willing to try any product you request, and we'll do 15% over cost for case orders through United Natural.  It's a bit hard to beat that.

Moreover, supporting my store does a whole lot more than just provide high quality groceries and deli items to your family - we employ local folks and we support a number of local vendors.  So when you purchase something in my store, odds are good that a good portion of those dollars are staying right here on the hill.  I sell chicken from Heather Ridge Farm in Potter Hollow, and beef and pork from Morning Fog Farm in Berne, for example.  In my 20 minute drive in this morning, I heard at least two different commercials for stores that promise you the lowest price at the highest quality.  My vendors open their farms to me - we can visit their animals, consider the quality of their operation - choose to support them with our dollars.  You aren't getting that from the Deli Warehouse, nor are you getting it from Price Chopper.  Is the price higher?  Absolutely.  The quality is incomparable, though.

And sometimes, yes, I have to also insist that you take the higher ground.  You can buy milk and beer cheaper at Rite Aid, in Greenville.  Probably cheaper at lots of other places.  But did you know that Rite Aid, in particular, sells milk and beer for just over cost, because they take such a high margin on their pharmaceutical products?  This hurts small businesses, encourages folks to needlessly drive, and highlights the overpriced nature of drugs in our country.

Localism is all about choices.  I don't think it's always easy - there's probably lots of times that I won't have exactly what you were hoping for - but I do go out of my way to help you find an alternative.  I am not a huge co-op, nor am I a department store.  But when you come through my door, I'll greet you with a smile, and remember your kid's names.  I know what kind of beer you like best and try to get your favorite gluten-free muffin.  And unlike the big places, it really has little to do with your money - I do this because you are my neighbor, and together, I think we are building something amazing.


  1. Here here! Well said and beautifully heartfelt. Brava.

  2. ok one very big drawback to shopping at your store is your gas. yes gas its wayyyyyy above everyone else. i love you guys but i cant afford your gas so i go all the way to greenville for it. if theres any way to drop fuel prices you will see alot more people that i can promise you

  3. The gas prices are non-negotiable, unfortunately. They are as low as I can get them, as our tanks are small and the larger distributors won't come here. Really, though, this criticism is exactly what I'm talking about. My price for gas is currently at 3.99/gallon, so if you needed 10 gallons of gas, you'd have to spend $39.90. If the price was 20 cents cheaper, you'd save $2.00. Is it really worth your time (and the fact that you are using gas, just to get more gas) driving to Greenville for $2.00?

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  5. Knight Rider,
    This is a silly argument not to shop at MGS. Anyone knows that driving all the way to Greenville will SPEND in gas that which you are trying to SAVE by going there. Do the math. By buying your gas in Medusa, you support not only a family business but the town itself, and you keep your money local. We all benefit.

    The store is an incredible resource -if they don't survive it's your fault for not patronizing them.

    Long Live Medusa.

  6. At $4.00 per gallon of gas, driving 10 miles to save 10 cents per gallon is a fools errand. Same goes for the beer and milk at Rite Aid. Plus, your dollars spent at MGS mean something significant to your community. Rite does not give a f@@k about you or your community. Stop being a cheap skate, spend the 10% extra at a local ma and pa and thank them for their time and investment in YOUR community.