When I was a kid, I could go into the Main Street shoe shop or the men’s store or the theater and the owner, who also tended to be the hardest worker in the place, knew me.

That’s personal service, the hometown retail method of running a business. I kind of liked that those business people recognized me. Everybody likes that, I suppose, even a kid. There isn’t enough of that personal touch in the world today, it seems to be. The local merchants, most of them, still know how to do it right.

At the same time, it made me uncomfortable to be singled out by name when I walked into a store. I’ve always been a shy person. I’m an introvert at heart, and while I secretly desired the recognition; when it came, I wished they had kept it to themselves. Why is that, do you suppose?

I’ve never been a committed shopper. I like the idea of shopping, especially locally and in person. I just don’t do it very well, and I don’t do it very often. I never have, not even before the pandemic made much of America think twice before venturing into a store filled with other people. I was ahead of my time, I guess.

My method of shopping, from the first time I was sent alone to the clothing store to buy a pair of cotton slacks, has been to ease my way into a shop, hoping the place doesn’t have a bell that chimes when the door opens. If I can make it to the men’s section without being noticed, I’m halfway to a victory. If a salesperson spots me, I’ve lost. I mumble, “Just looking, thanks,” and scoot off down the aisle.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

Keeping an eye on the sales person, I sidle up to a shelf of sweaters or rack of shirts, try to find the size without showing any outward interest in the item, quickly grab the piece of merchandise that will work and hurry to check-out hoping the clerk won’t say, “did you find everything you wanted?” Clerks nearly always say that. I’ve developed a jaunty, “Sure did,” which I practically shout as I shove my credit card backwards into the reader.

The only store where I’m comfortable is the hardware place on the main drag in Pierre. They know me there, too, and when one of the sales people asks if I need help, for some reason I always tell them what I’m looking for, follow them to the proper aisle and let them help me fill out my order, bring it to checkout and finish the transaction. One hardware store in the whole world where I don’t put my credit card backwards into the reader. Again, I ask, why is that, do you suppose?

Over the past several years, I’ve developed rather personal relationships with a number of online retail outlets. Actually, they’ve done with developing. I just get the emails and Facebook notifications. At some point I must have given them my email and mentioned somewhere that I liked something in their catalog.

People who know me know that, even though I currently own something like six pairs of shoes, only two pairs less than five years old. I love a place in Denver called DSW. I like that place enough to hop on Interstate 25, and it takes a lot to make me use that crowded interstate. The business has developed such a relationship that every day or so they send me an email with a discount offer of one kind of another. It’s very personal, or it would be if the emails didn’t always greet me with “Hi, Perry.”

The internet is an amazing retail place. The other evening, Nancy looked at a washing machine online on her laptop. Inside of 30 minutes, two different companies popped up on my Facebook feed with great deals on washing machines. Convenient, and just a little frightening, when you stop to think of it,

It’s nice the online folks are thinking of us, I guess, but it makes me more uncomfortable than the chiming bell on the door of a retail store back home.