I’m not exactly what you’d call handy, but I can fix some basic mechanical things around the house.
There’s a common home appliance that needed a part that periodically wears out, and with the right replacement parts, I can usually handle the repair pretty easily.
The local franchise dealer has the parts on hand, but they cost a good amount, and their store is inconveniently across town.
So I searched online and found off-brand after-market parts that matched the model number of my unit, and the reviews online seemed OK, so I pulled the trigger.
A couple of days later, the parts arrived at my door, and I proceeded to install them one evening. Three or the four of pieces went in fine. The fourth one fit in, too, until I turned the appliance on and discovered it was leaking.
I turned off the unit and reinstalled the parts with utmost care. But the appliance still leaked. I then put in the old part — no leak. Hmm.
I went online again and ordered just that one replacement part, branded by the online retailer platform, and it was super cheap. When it came, it looked the same, but the connectors didn’t extend as they were supposed to.
When I turned the appliance on, the part fell off. Not good.
That’s it. But then, I had a luncheon scheduled last Friday near the official dealer in town, and I decided to stop in.
The gal at the front desk greeted me with a smile and promptly looked me up on the computer.
I told her what was up and pointed to the specific part I needed from the color diagram on the wall. A more technical staffer came by and advised that it comes in sets, but they could sell me just the once piece.
Deciding I might need the other parts again in the future anyway, I shelled out $50 just so I have stuff that works.
Expressing my appreciation to these real people, I flagged down a fellow heading out the door.
We recognized each other from around the community and chatted a bit in the hot Missouri sun.
He knew a co-worker of mine and genuinely thanked me for patronizing the business he had run for decades.
At home that evening, I popped in the part just fine. No leak, no problem.
Buying stuff online is pretty fantastic. From clothes to sporting equipment to furniture and even toilet tissue, goods usually arrive at your door within days at good prices.
Many folks do point out that buying online from distant vendors means fewer dollars spent at local stores, dollars that would circulate though the local economy, driving local jobs and prosperity.
Government officials decry the loss of tax dollars when locals shop online, at least partially evading our outdated sales tax system.
We live in a hybrid world where we can buy from many retailers with a local bricks-and-mortar store, but we can also buy a lot of stuff online.
Many local stores also allow us to order from a website. So, you can order online and have an item delivered to your home or pick it up at the store.
Or you can get home delivery, and the local store will take returns.
Or you can pick it out at the local showroom and have it shipped to your home.
A sign at one chain retailer in town says they accept Amazon returns — I guess it’s how to get physical people into a physical door one way or the other.
Still, my iPad is not as personable as an employee (or owner) of a longtime local small business. The assistant that pops up to chat online has no idea who I am or what schools I attended.
I can buy insurance online from a lizard or from someone who does crazy dances on TV. That may be a fine arrangement, but my local agent has served my folks longer than I have been alive, knows my personal preferences and genuinely gives a darn about me.
My local bike shop helps me fix stuff I can’t and can find a new ride that matches my desired use and fits my body geometry. My local, trusted car mechanic tells me what I need to repair and what to keep an eye on for the next few weeks or months.
Then, of course, there’s the nice appliance fix-it folks.
Maybe I don’t need local outlets when I buy paper towels or a backpack. Maybe not even for a car purchase. But while buying some things online can be real helpful, often it’s not the same and doesn’t work out as well.
When there was only one telephone company or DMV office in town you had no choice — to get a phone or license your car, you dealt with one monopoly provider. Now we have multiple mobile phone vendors to choose from and two DMVs.
So if one has a better deal, or one gives you crappy service, you can take you business elsewhere.
Choices are generally good, but sometimes we have too many choices.
A Chinese restaurant that lists 80 different entrees on the menu can be overwhelming. Walmart must stock 100 types of laundry detergent. Amazon offers a million kinds of shirts. Searching Netflix for an entertaining show can take a while. I have become frozen in those cases, simply worn-out about knowing where to start.
Consumers, workers, students, youths and retirees alike are being presented with more life options than ever before.
We are all having to work this out in our own ways.
I am still not always sure how to decide which option is best, but it’s still better than no options at all.
Steve Spellman hosts “The Mid-Missouri Freedom Forum” at 5 p.m. every Tuesday on KOPN/89.5 FM.