Economy: Relational Economics

We’re taking a giant step into the future
And turning into a thousand other towns
I heard today the news that they are
Closing the bookstore down.

Some big concern comes in and yanks
Our jobs, our shops, our hometown banks,
Then they expect our grateful thanks
It happens every day.
I guess I just prefer to see
Success serve our community
Not just some wealthy VIP
Who lives a thousand miles away.

So take a minute and look around,
There are corner shops in every town
Squeezed and pushed and hunkered down
And battered by the blows
No, they might not be shiny or bright or new
But they’re run by folks like me and you
Now, I can’t tell you what to do
But me?…I’m going to shop at those.

John McCutcheon, “Closing the Bookstore Down” Rounder Records

It was an ironic situation. I was standing in Fairley’s Pharmacy, a locally owned and operated drug store when my cell phone rang. It was my wife telling me that I’d gotten a call at home from the Safeway Pharmacy—corporate mega-drug powerhouse—about the over-the-counter medication that I was trying to find. I had just left there and stopped by its tiny competitor, tucked into a pie-shaped building about a block away where Sandy Boulevard angled into Fremont Street. Fairley had opened back in the 1920’s long before Safeway was built.

I called Safeway back and got a recorded voice, the first of several… “For store location and business hours, press ‘1’, for the floral department, press…” Eventually, I got the pharmacy and another recording: “For pharmacy hours, press ‘1’. If you are a doctors office, press ‘2’. If you need information about insurance or medicare…”

At last I got a human voice. I talked to it as the pharmacist at Fairley’s—a living, breathing pharmacist—stood at the counter waiting to talk to me. He had been waiting about five minutes for me to finish navigating the electronic labyrinth. Safeway said that the medication I was looking for had been discontinued. I hung up. I turned to the man at the counter. He told me the same thing.

I left the little drug store considering the contrast between the information I got from the corporate store and the information I got from the little guy. The difference was relationship.

Now, here’s just the right place to insert the obligatory diatribe about the impersonal world with its electronic customer service and volume pricing. This would the time to slam the capitalist juggernaut and lament the lack of locally sustainable economies. But I think there is a different issue for Christ-followers, the issue of relationship. As citizens of the commonwealth of faith, relationship becomes the relevant issue. Jesus taught us to value human interaction and charitable service. He taught us to love one another, and along the way, love the world, which was what the Father had done by sending Jesus in the first place. None of that is possible without relationship and placing high value on the personal. Our issue with corporate America isn’t raw economics, it’s relationship; it’s losing the personal interaction, the human, voice and the human face—the window into the soul, which is where the Spirit of God jealously yearns to dwell. If we choose the small and local it’s because relationships are lying right there on the surface and not buried beneath a media-drenched infrastructure or a constantly shifting bureaucracy. If we choose “humongo mart” it’s usually in pursuit of the less expensive or convenient—the sacrifice of the personal.

Still, it’s fairly difficult these days to avoid the maelstrom of the humongous. When it isn’t practical or possible to support a local economy, we can at least make relationships a priority as best we can. Down at Safeway we know a few people. Bret asks about my son; Sharydon knows my last name. I try to go through their checkout line—when they’re working, and until they get transferred to another store—then I drive home, passing Fairley’s on the way. I intend get my prescriptions there from now on. Shun the corporate monolith and trade locally…hang the cost!

So give me slow food and a hometown team
Spencer’s, Bodo’s, Chap’s Ice Cream
Gleason Hardware and that corner store
With the dust on the shelves and the bell on the door
I swear I’d love to hear that sound once more
Since they closed the bookstore down. (McCutcheon)

2 thoughts on “Economy: Relational Economics”

  1. Safeway doens’t have milk shakes which the benefit of Farely’s that Luke appreciates most. it seems odd that very same Safeway is spending thousands of dollars to create a warm friendly atmospere. simply replacing florescent lighting is no replacement for human contact.

  2. I’m reminded of a recent call to one of the “mega” churches in town and the choices of extensions and programs options and worship styles that I was offered. All I really wanted to do was talk to a person.

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