Avoid the Big Box at (Almost) All Costs

Anyone who’s renovated a house knows all about those Saturday trips to Home Depot.  It starts with a morning jaunt to the paint department.  Just moments after returning home, you realize you’ve forgotten the drop cloths and turn around for a return trip.  Yes!  Your favorite parking spot is still open!  Noon rolls around and instead of watching the paint dry, you stop by “The Po” (as we so fondly call it) to buy crown moulding for that window project you’ve been meaning to finish.  They’re now greeting you by name.  Your final Saturday trip comes when you realize you have no nails for the aforementioned crown moulding.  It’s 5 o’clock, you’re back at the Po and your new best friend in lighting is asking about your mother.

It’s a slippery, slippery slope.

I’ve come to discover the one and only benefit to big box stores like Home Depot or Lowe’s is convenience.  Beyond that, you’ll be much happier and significantly more sane spending those Saturday shopping trips at the various mom and pop shops around town.  Along with boosting the local economy, here are a few reasons why I avoid the big box at (almost) all costs…

Selection: Big box stores generalize in everything, but specialize in nothing.  If there’s a specific screw, plant or paint stripper you’ve been scouring the earth for, try a mom and pop.  Much to my surprise, I found the perfect coupling nut for a sconce project at Harry’s Ace Hardware.  Unfortunately I didn’t try Harry’s until after my exhaustive 20 minute search at the local “Po.”

Service: Whether it’s a specialty lumber yard or local hardware shop, most employees in local shops know what they’re doing.  They’re more likely to offer in-store service, problem solving and project advice.  Don’t be afraid to use it!

Quality: Cabinet shopping at the local big box store, I was disappointed to discover the “hardwood” cabinetry was actually composite material on both sides.  Spend one summer in the humid New Orleans weather and you’ll understand why particle board just isn’t an option.  The moisture will have your cabinets warping faster than your hair-do.  Another shopper suggested a cabinet shop down the road.  For the same price, I was able to order custom, hardwood cabinets without an ounce of particle board in sight.

Price: It’s easy to assume mom and pops will charge you an arm and a leg, but I’ve found the exact opposite is the case.  There’s a premium for convenience and at a big box store, you’ll be paying it.  From lumber to plants, overall we’ve found better prices at the local shops.

My only advice is to be flexible and patient.  Small stores have shorter hours and are often closed Saturdays, Sundays or both.  Since they can’t carry the same quantity of inventory as a big box, you may also have to be patient.  Some items may need to be ordered or shipped and that can take days, even weeks.   However if you’re anything like me, that extra shred of sanity after spending a looooong Saturday at “The Po” makes my local shops worth the wait.  The more time I spend at a mom and pop, the less I’ll spend bellied up to the local bar.

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