Covid shopping got you down?

If you’ve been an Amazon-only shopper or “local only” buyer and you miss your local small businesses and can’t find the things you need, try this:

Shop at EVERYONE’s small businesses around the country. They’re open, and there for you if you look–with the things you need and the family-owned service of the stores in your own back yard.

If you search a little deeper, you’ll find some great companies out there all over the country. Sure, it’s easy to one-stop shop at Amazon. And, Amazon workers are doing great job delivering, working in tough conditions, and keeping a great deal of the nation’s supply chain going.  But with delays, shortages, and price gauging all over the platform, it’s a good time to remember the smaller stores deliver, too.

I’m keeping my eye out to see which stores are taking advantage of the time to show you their services, and ones that make me abandon cart.  I’ve got a few hero’s awards and some up and comers, and a few stores that surprised me by falling short.

Pets:

Chewy.com.

They have shipping delays but are in touch all the time asking “Do you need it now? Otherwise, we’re working hard to get to everyone and we estimate it’ll arrive by (date).” From Day One, I have been able to get the pet food without problem. The site says they’re out of some items, because they prioritized inventory for existing autoships. I couldn’t buy dog biscuits as a one-off when I tried, for example. Don’t worry–I’ll give you my recipe.   Chewy has come through with amazing delivery and communication showing pet people everywhere their friends will be well fed.

Tractor Supply Store:

I went in once for chicken food early on. Today, though, you can put your order in, and they’ll deliver it to the store. Some items say “not available” but if you call or order ahead, most are–even large things, like dog kennels, troughs, and other “bring your truck” sized items are there. They also have pet food, and it’s chicken season–the busy time–so you can order your new chicken coop too.

Gardening:

Gurneys: Indiana

They’re a go-to for me for order-ahead plants and seeds. I don’t do a lot with seeds except kill them, but I try a few every year. This year, I ordered seed potatoes, a few high-production strawberries, and some insect ground cover fabric. They often have free shipping offers, but today, I got a half-off. Search for that code–it’s always floating around somewhere. “Half-off orders of $50, $100, and $100. Shop strategically and you’ll score there, every year. Some things are sold out now but there is still a big selection. Most of the “sold out” happens this time in spring, and is not Covid related.

Pleasant Hill Grain: Nebraska.

This store was a new find for me–if you bake, cook. plant, preserve, or eat, you’ll like this site.  If you’re a Covid baker hunting down SAF yeast–it’s there, priced affordably. For fun, I checked Amazon, where it’s now around but people are price gauging for over $20/pound. I looked at the ingredients, appliances, and equipment on this site–it’s priced well, and it’s a family-owned site. I put in my first order, and I’m sure I’ll be back.

Lehman’s: Pennsylvania.

It’s as Amish as you can get and still have internet. This is pricy, but specialty. It has your Texas Pea Sheller, your grain mills in case you’re turning your front lawn into wheat flour, and gas lanterns.  They’re dependable. I use them for my tough-to-find “weird” homesteady things.

True Leaf Market: Utah.

It’s time to restock my microgreens and sprouting seeds. Usually, that’s a Whole Foods thing. But, they’re pricy there in little bags. I suspected there was some bulk store I was missing–and it’s True Leaf Market. Their selection was amazing, very little is sold out (not many people fighting for sprouts, I guess). There’s a 5 -10 day delay (who cares!) but they teach you how to grow giant pumpkins while you wait (they have the seeds!).  If you’re looking for a smaller project than a giant pumpkin, they’ve got expert-level mushroom growing supplies (the culinary kind, not the Tim Leary variety).

Mountain Rose Herbs:Oregon

I’ve shopped here for decades. They have organic bulk herbs, spices, aroma things, extracts, and teas. Prices are good. Warning: if you’ve never bought bulk herbs before, be careful. A pound of dried herb is more like a pillow case than anything you could use. Tread carefully.

FastGrowingTrees: South Carolina

I ordered from them last fall and again this spring. They have “regular” trees, but I got 2 grafted fruit trees which were healthy, affordable, and delivered fast. Now, I just have to ask the deer to leave them alone.

Johnny’s Selected Seeds: Maine

This is generally a go-to site for seeds. But, this year, during the seed shortage, they shifted to sell to commercial farmers only. This was disappointing. They’ll be opening up to the public soon–ETA: end of April. What I like about Johnny’s is I’m in the North. Their seeds grow here. Also, they always have great service and an overwhelming variety. They’ll see me again, just not this year.

How are the mainstream stores holding up?

Larger Stores That Will Remain Nameless.

Most had .com sites that normally advertise curb delivery, regular delivery, or pick up in store. I didn’t succeed in any of them–the larger stores, the large grocery chains, or the warehouse stores.

The .com sites had crazy limits or items that said, “In store only,” meaning I’d have to go shopping anyway–that defeats the point. Our big regional grocer’s delivery slots were booked for weeks out, with customers reporting success if they hovered over the button and refreshed constantly. No thanks–I’m not interested.

For most of the stores there were online purchase limits that didn’t exist in the store.  I fully appreciate sharing the Charmin, but no one wants the peanut butter crackers my husband eats for work. They had “limit one” of boxes of cereal yet if I wanted, I could buy one of every kind in the store. It made no sense, and when I ultimately did my one in-person trip all those silly-limit items were well stocked with no restrictions. So, I could buy what I needed, shop once, and you’ll never see me again.

That’s my normal shopping strategy, by the way. I hate shopping.

When I did go in person, the employees were heroes. They were ringing, stocking, helping. Most had horror stories of people not being very nice to them and were grateful for customers showing appreciation. No one wants to be the person stationed outside saying, “Next,” but they’re getting the job done.

I’m sad that the .com sites and delivery aren’t keeping people out of the stores, but for my one time in the store–it was as normal as it’s going to get for a while.

Meanwhile… our local stores:

They’re knocking this out of the park. Our local farm store, Confreda’s, has been stocked every day.

The IGA is taking email and phone orders. They call you when they’re ready and bring it out to the car.  We have a local grocery chain called Dave’s which is the bastion of calm. I went there in the very beginning, right after toilet paper disappeared from the nation. It was peaceful and orderly–people smiling.

Find your local version of these stores and use them–now and after the recovery, too.

eBay

You might overlook eBay for many items. Don’t. If you know how to shop, eBay’s somewhere to check these days. Many small businesses that were forced to close are actively shipping on eBay.

If you know how to use the “Buy it Now” and check the seller ratings and shipping costs, you can do better on eBay than some other sites right now. And, you’ll be supporting small businesses. Many can’t sell on Amazon right now, because Amazon is restricting 3rd party sellers.

EBay is doing a good job stopping price gauging and black market behavior.

The bottom line…

Whether you shop weekly, shop for fun, or hate shopping, like me, there are some good small businesses out there getting the job done so you can stay at home. Find these small-shop, local, regional, and online heroes, and put in your orders. Then, keep them in your circle of trust when the country’s full-steam ahead again.

I’ll be adding to this list as I find more great retailers.

>Photo by Bruno Kelzer on Unsplash