Buying local is harder than it should be

Empty shelves in our stores are a warning to us all, but will we listen?

Captain Linda Striping is one of the works now available in my outdoor gallery, open Tuesday-Saturday, noon to five.

I like to buy local, but we haven’t been able to do so. Refurbishing my husband’s office was always on the docket for April. It got done, but not necessarily in the way I envisioned.

The only major purchases I was able to make locally were the paint and ceiling fan. His sit-to-stand workstation was always going to be special-order, but the printer stand, cabinet and area rug would have come from stores near us, had they been open. Roughly a thousand dollars that could have been spent locally went instead through Amazon and Wayfair directly to off-shore manufacturers. I wonder how much of our ‘stimulus money’ took the exact same winged path out of the United States.

Quebec Brook, oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas. Available.

Once I was sure my outdoor gallery idea would work, I realized I needed a tent. To me, this has emotional shading, since I spent years on the art festival circuit. Last week I wrote about Wegmans and how they’re weathering COVID-19. I realized that Wegmans is not afraid to go back to selling bulk pasta. I can feel okay about raising a festival tent again.

My previous tent was a 10X10 E-Z Up. I was happy to find it for $200 twenty years ago. That $200 is now worth $300 with inflation, but I can buy the same model online now for $168.43.

There is nothing shoddy about this tent, despite its price.

I need twice as much tent now, so I paid $200 for a vinyl carport at a local store. I winced when I read “Made in China” on the box, but it was the only option I could find. Just like all that flat pack furniture in April, it’s surprisingly well-made.

Three Peas in a Pod, by Carol L. Douglas. Available.

What if I’d wanted to buy an American-made tent? As far as I know, the closest purveyor is Fred’sin Waterford, NY, but I couldn’t just go to their showroom and pick one out. They’re handcrafters of specialty tents. That’s where American manufacturing has been trending for the last fifty years—we make beautiful, expensive things, rather than the cheap, utilitarian stuff that everyone needs.

Teaching online, I’ve realized I need a headset to be audible to my students. I ordered one on May 27. As of yesterday, it hadn’t shipped. That tells me that our supply lines are as stretched for Amazon as they are in my local grocery store.

Autumn Farm, by Carol L. Douglas. Available.

Buycott is a phone app that purports to be your moral shopping guardian. Scan a barcode and it will tell you whether the maker violates moral issues that concern you, like slave labor or fair trade. It’s a good idea, but I just want to know where things are made. “Made in the USA” on the box means very little; it can mean that the items were assembled and packaged here from raw materials that were sourced entirely overseas. (Since there are no American pigment manufacturers anymore, the same could be said of my paintings.)

I can buy local produce and with some effort, locally-grown meat. But I can’t buy locally-made tents or vinyl signs. The empty shelves in our stores should be a warning to us all. Fixing this problem will require both political will and the willingness to pay a fair price for goods. Will we just forget about it as soon as the crisis is over?