Every day crows fly back and forth across the front of my property. Crows are reputed to be more intelligent than many shopkeepers, so I've been studying their behaviour closely. I'm pretty sure that they know the landscape intimately, so when something appears to be out of place, say a dead fish washes up on the beach, they immediately notice a change in the pattern or fabric of the landscape.
The crows eyeball the situation, and profit from their observations. They seem to know how to live in this place. They're adaptive, resting on Monday for Tuesday's big event...garbage day! Clever opportunists, these crows. I admire them as entrepreneurs. For a number of years we had a crow that we nicknamed 'the hello crow'. It had the craziest call, a very froggy, deep-throated 'hul-lo'. It was more genial than many shopkeepers.
I happened to be in the Rothesay/Quispamsis neighbourhoods of Saint John last evening. Though there on business related to leisurology, I took the opportunity to forage for nuts and berries, hoping to find something new to supplement my hundred mile diet. There are two market stores in Quispamsis which compete for the dollars of the affluent Kennebecasis Valley denizens: Cochran's Country Market and the new and much larger Brookside Country Market.
I went to the Brookside market first, thinking that bigger might be better. Once inside, I discovered an impressive looking bakery, an ice cream parlour, a deli ,and a fruit and vegetable display. Being sentimental, I checked out the ice cream and baked goods first, and then got down to business. The tired looking staff seemed to be sitting around for the most part, watching me silently as though their pygmy tribe had never seen a tall, white man before. The weight of eyes can be incredible, and the burden makes shopping a chore.
I shuffled along to the produce section which most appeals to me these days, desperately looking for some food that was local...zippo. Great care was taken to arrange the produce into perfectly cascading rows, executed with marching military precision. Almost everything was imported, and those items that came from Canada were not identified as to their origin. For someone on the hundred mile diet, the thought of an Ontario tomato was akin to bedding down with Martha Stewart in low thread count linens...not a good thing. I left the store empty handed and unengaged.
I pulled into Cochran's, a store that I had been to before but didn't know well. I was immediately greeted by a friendly sales girl who said, amazing, hello. There was a smile, and then she engaged me in conversation. I told her about my hundred mile quest to which she, too, had been paying attention. She showed me all of the local New Brunswick produce which was already clearly and proudly labelled as such. I was given a tour of the Swiss chard, beet greens, carrots, potatoes, cold frame zucchinis, sugar snap peas, green peas, snow peas, greenhouse tomatoes and strawberries. I was so impressed by her friendly nature and Cochran's obvious commitment to providing fresh and local foods, that my Washademoak Valley money practically leaped out of my Scottish wallet.
This study in contrasts had me thinking about another little store in my neighbourhood. Connell's General Store, in Long Creek, deserves a lot of praise. Though I'm perfectly capable of pumping my own gas, they still do it for me at Connell's. It's a nice break from the norm. You're always greeted with a friendly hello and they do their best to get to know you. I feel like a friend when I go there.
When you enter the store you're immediately thrown back into the past. It feels warm and embracing. This is an old-time general store that doesn't try to deliver the Superstore effect, thankfully. The owners don't dress in matching outfits, with brightly coloured t-shirts that promote their in-store banking services. There are no sterile spotlights highlighting the splendid spuddiness of the new potatoes. They sit in a basket as they might have a hundred years ago. Some local peas and strawberries keep the papery yellow tubers company, all of them coming from a nearby farm. There are fresh pies in the fridge and some tasty looking home-baking on the shelves. The counter is well worn and loved, and you're not likely to leave it without some pleasant conversation.
There are days when I completely lose my faith in the retail experience, then I'm reinvigorated by a trip to Cochran's or Connell's. It's so nice to be greeted by a simple and genuine 'hello'. Customer service should be taken seriously...it's not for the birds, but if it were, I'd be hoping for the hello crow instead of a belligerent budgie.