Writers are always pointing out trouble in the world. That's because writers want to be read. And who wants to read about the Gulf of Aden these days? And who wants to read about Chevron?
But every once in awhile what’s working is what’s interesting.
And what’s working these days are big, giant corporations other than BP.
At least, they’re working for me.
As usual, big corporations are producing things that I need that small shops can’t make efficiently. I’d love to tell my mechanic pal Reid to build me a new car—“How about a five-wheeler, Chief, with a special compartment for a golf bag?”—but I think Subaru is really the better bet.
And here’s what else corporations do: They keep the small businesses that I like to deal with, on their game.
I love the hipsters who work at the Alliance Bakery on Division Street. Their pastries are the bomb and they have a sign by the register that says they’ll deal with customers as soon as they get off their cell phone. Fantastic! But if their edginess turns to truculence or if the tastiness fades, they know darned well I can do business for much cheaper at the Dominick’s grocery store a stone’s throw away.
Ace Motorcycle & Scooter is an odd operation whose owners, Chad and Bee, however friendly and super-competent, march not to the beat of your drum, but their own. If they were the only crap game in town, their customers might get impatient with their quirky ways. But you know what? Customers' drums are not always right. And when a customer is in trouble, Ace is aces: Just yesterday afternoon, they fixed an oil leak on my bike, while I waited, for free.
The boys who make the sandwiches in the back of the Bari Market deli on Grand don’t go out of their way to be friendly, and the lady in front believes in “service with a sardonic smile.” But their friggin’ sandwiches are so fresh you half expect to hear sounds of the slaughter in the back room. And the longer the line, the more fun you have watching guys order their sandwiches like actors auditioning for a play; it's the best part of their whole day, and yours too. Thus, it would be easy for the Bari boys to get cocky; Whole Foods helps keep them in line.
Rothschild’s Liquors on Chicago Avenue has its undeniable charms, which include never being carded, but simply being asked, “What’s your year, Baby?” When you answer, “1969” you look furtively at the other people in line to see whether they’re surprised you look so young, or so old. But how much would that little novelty be worth if the grocery chain up the road didn’t keep Rothschild’s prices in check?
Before all the cold, 18-hole golf course-community courses were built all over Illinois, Pine Hills Golf Course in Ottawa was just another nine-hole track run by a cantankerous family and taken for granted by ungrateful townsfolk. Now, if I could, I’d build a new wing of the Smithsonian right over Pine Hills and call it, Public Golf in America. It's a pleasure to hand them my cash—which is good, because cash is the only form of payment they accept.
Last Saturday, Scout and I set out to buy her a new bike. Our plan was to
try one little bike store, and if they didn’t have what we needed for
the amount we wanted to pay, we were off to Target. Roscoe Village Bikes did
have a bike for Scout, and thanks to Target's breathing down their necks, the price was reasonable.
And we got to deal with the eager little bike nut proprietor who took adorable pains to make
sure the bike was perfectly fitted for Scout, while Scout petted a
sleepy dog curled up by the counter. We'll never go anywhere else for bike stuff again.
So thanks, Massive, Faceless Corporations, for making small businesses more competitive and at the same time, such a relative pleasure to do business with.