By Jan S. Gephardt

We’ve been hearing a lot about supply chain issues, and the resulting problem of inflation (due to the market forces of high demand and lower supplies—no, it’s not the infrastructure bill). Deals aren’t as good, this year, we hear. Shop early, and don’t wait for deals, we’re told. Supply chain issues are messing things up, and there could be worse to come!

Be scared! Be angry! These messages come through loud and clear. The economy is going to hell, and we’re all gonna die. Or so some would have you think (mostly so you’ll give them money).

I don’t believe it has to be that bad. And you don’t have to receive that word, either. We can beat supply chain issues and have a lovely Christmas/Holiday season, if we keep our priorities straight. In this post I plan to focus on smaller-scale, creative and adaptive things we can do to beat supply chain issues in sustainable ways.

Four images of backed-up shipping lanes off the coast of California.
Back in February 2021, the Coast Guard documented a growing backup of cargo ships outside California ports (Freight Waves/US Coast Guard).

We Can’t Whip Inflation and Supply Chain Issues with a Closed Mind

If you have a fixed idea of What Christmas Has To Be, and it’s built around the newest, coolest, hottest toys, electronics, and fashions, I can’t help you. Is hitting the Black Friday, Cyber Monday (or, for that matter, the After Christmas) sales your idea of a good time? Do you seek out the very most rock-bottom prices for trendy items that are on “everyone’s” must-have list? Well, then, for you I’ve got nothin’.

If you (or the people on your gift list) will only be satisfied with those hot new, influencer-endorsed, “must-have” things, this post is not for you. You live in a different reality from where I’m centered.

But if you’re willing to open your mind and be flexible, to focus on the fun, the personalized, and the unique, then read on.

Shoppers in a crowded store and a massive Amazon fulfillment facility.
A lot of people will be fighting through crowds or fueling a massive wave of shipped packages this year in an effort to get ahead of supply chain issues (iStock/Sculpies; Amazon).

“Buy Local” is a Survival Tactic—For Us and Our Communities!

You’ve heard the mantra “buy local” a gazillion times by now, and there are good reasons why—even if the local shops are a bit more expensive. Local shops (even local franchisees, although they often aren’t able to be as flexible) are invested in the community. Larger concerns are not, and they actually can’t be.

I’m old enough to have seen some “big box”-type stores rise and fall. Remember K-Mart?They still exist!—but not around Kansas City. Do you remember Borders Books? They were fun while they lasted. But when things went sour and the business model changed, they cut their losses and closed local outlets.

Never mind if they’d run local stores out of business and now they were the only sources. I’ve lived in rural communities where that was literally the case. But their corporate offices didn’t care.

That was then. Now it’s the online stores that grab ever-greater percentages of buyers. Maybe you don’t worry about the possibility that you’re perpetuating inhumane workplaces. Maybe you can ignore underpaid, stressed-out warehouse or factory workers, who have to meet ever-higher quotas at an ever-faster pace.

Shipping from overseas adds a significant carbon load to the environment. Shipping from online outlets can drive up the price of your bargain. And ultimately, everybody’s fuel prices, too. What’s the carbon footprint, even if it’s “free” shipping?

A different view of a very busy Amazon fulfillment facility, and a Foxconn factory with suicide nets.
At left, Prime Day 2021 at an Amazon warehouse in North Carolina. At right, do you remember the Foxconn suicide nets from 2010? It’s clear that extreme pressure in factories and fulfillment centers can still be a problem. (NBC News / Rachel Jessen / Bloomberg via Getty Images file; Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition).

Beat Supply Chain Issues by Buying Local and Staying Open-Minded

If you shop from a list of pre-determined items, your track is rigidly set. The only issue becomes “what’s the lowest price?” Maybe you also shop for quality or value-for-the-money. Maybe you shop for “can-I-get-it-by-X date?” But if that’s your strategy, then serendipity is not your friend, and neither are supply chain issues. You may have to wrap a box that contains a picture of the “someday my box will come” item.

I have often made excellent gift-finds by walking into a local store and looking around. I once bought half my Christmas presents at Kieran’s Hardware Store in Lockwood, Missouri (there’s still a hardware store there, but it doesn’t seem to have Kieran’s name on it). One of my students, who clerked there part-time, offered great help. We had a fun and creative experience. Most of those gifts were a major hit with their recipients, too.

A quaint row of small shops in Kansas City, MO.
A block full of small, mostly local shops in the Kansas City Brookside neighborhood (First Washington Realty).

Local Gems

I bet your area has such stores, if you seek them out. Places like Rainy Day Books in Fairway, Kansas They know their stock, they gift-wrap for free, and they’re experienced “book matchmakers.”

Places like the R&R Center in St. Clair, Missouri, which is on its fourth generation of owners from the same family. It is way more varied and essential than just another Ace Hardware Store.

Or places like Brookside Toy and Science in Kansas City, Missouri, a shop I’ve depended on for a couple of decades’ worth of great Angel Tree toy finds. Their knowledgeable staffers are amazing!

Storefronts of Rainy Day Books, R&R Center, and Brookside Toy & Science.
L-R, The proprietors of Rainy Day Books outside their store, R&R Ace Hardware, and Brookside Toy & Science’s storefront. (Rainy Day Books; Google/Laura Montgomery; Google/Brookside Toy & Science).

Beat Supply Chain Issues by “Shopping Local” for Food

If you’ve followed this blog for very long, you know that both my sister and I have strong feelings about supporting local businesses, especially artists. My sister’s posts “Setting the Table” and “A Necessary Indulgence” on The Weird Blog offer glimpses of how she treasures small craftspersons. There were strong elements of this aesthetic in her recent post “A Birthday Indulgence,” too.

But artisanal efforts don’t only happen in the realms of art and fine crafts (we’ll revisit those disciplines later in this post). The most delectable artisan crafts create food.

The season for farmers’ markets may have passed, but that doesn’t by any means show that all the local food-oriented businesses have closed. Very much to the contrary! Just look at “the two Kansas Cities.”

Some KCK Connections

Here in my neck of the woods, we have Bichelmeyer Meats, another longtime-local (70+ years), family-owned shop (pronounce it “BICK-el-my-er”). They’re located across the state line and the Kaw/Kansas River, in Kansas City, Kansas.

This old-style butcher shop supplies locally-reared, grass-fed meat that’s never gone anywhere near a feedlot or a meat-packing plant. They also offer a selection of outstanding house-made sausages and their own, competition-tested barbecue sauce. It’s Kansas City. Of course they have barbecue sauce! They also do their best to be affordable, even for folks on a tight budget. Does your area have such a gem, too?

You might not have exactly the same ethnic mix in your area, so the specialty foods will vary. But I bet you have delicious and unique offerings! Strawberry Hill Baking Co. has operated in Kansas City, Kansas for more than 100 years, and their Povitica (pronounced “po-va-teet-sa”) has become pretty famous. It’s an originally-Slavic treat that all of us can enjoy!

Sausages, the Bichelmeyer’s logo, four kinds of Povitica and the Strawberry Hill logo.
Along with locally-sourced, grass-fed meats, Bichelmeyer offers house-made sausages. And Strawberry Hill Baking Company makes Povitica in a dizzying array of flavors. (Bichelmeyer Meats; Strawberry Hill Baking Co).

But wait! There’s Chocolate!

Kansas City, Missouri has deep roots in chocolate candy-making. We’re the original home of Russell Stover Candies. But if that’s too “mainstream” for you, we have a deep “chocolate culture” here.

Annedore’s Fine Chocolates is within walking distance from my house—yet, alas, nowhere near far enough to walk off the calories! André’s Confiserie Suisse (which shares a building but is technically next door to the local Swiss Consulate) is about an equal distance from my father’s South Plaza condo. And we can’t forget Christopher Elbow, with a shop downtown! Each has their own approach, and each has been judged as world-class.

Yes, the chocolate is strong with Kansas City! What is your home town’s specialty food?

Annedore’s, Christopher Elbow, and André—all Kansas City chocolatiers.
Kansas City’s world-class chocolatiers Annedore’s (top) , Christopher Elbow (center), and André’s present a divine approach-approach-approach conflict! (Annedore’s Fine Chocolates; Christopher Elbow Chocolates; André’s Confiserie Suisse).

Beat Supply Chain Issues by Shopping Local Artisans, Artists and Crafters

If you’re onboard with the philosophy of shopping locally and creatively, you probably already have scoped out local art fairs, festivals, and craft shows. This time of year, they often pop up in malls and convention centers. Earlier in the season, they might have been outdoor street fairs. We recently had such a gathering in our River Market district.

But even if there’s no show this week/weekend, that doesn’t mean there’s no art to be found. Here in the Kansas City area we have any number of wonderful creators with their own studios. Check out Genevieve Flynn (jewelry) or Susan F. Hill Design (fiber art). For paper-based art, consider Angie Pickman’s Rural Pearl Studio (wonderful cut-paper art; technically in Lawrence, KS), and my longtime friend Randal Spangler (fantasy art originals, prints, and more).

If you’re aware of a local artist, they’re probably planning a holiday open house. Ask to be put on their mailing list, so you’ll know when it’s happening!

And don’t forget local artist groups and associations. They’re probably having holiday sales, too. For example, the KC Clay Guild has its 39th Annual Holiday Pottery Sale and Studio Tour this coming weekend. The Weavers Guild of Greater Kansas City already participated in the Creative Hand Show and Sale for this year, but Creative Hand has a great list of artists and their websites. You can bet than most of them would be willing to sell you cool stuff.

Offerings from the holiday shows for “Creative Hand” and the KC Clay Guild.
Holiday sales offer quite a range of interesting objects and wearables. (Creative Hand; KC Clay Guild).

Options for Beating Supply Chain Issues are all Around Us

Thinking outside the commercial run of average stuff may be an adjustment, but it’s worth the effort. We just have to look for local options, and keep an open mind. I hope this overview gets the ideas flowing (I do plan to suggest more ideas in an upcoming post). Our own supply chains will be that much more resilient when we “shop local,” and our communities will be, too.

I’d love it if this post gives my local favorites a boost (Go, Kansas City Metro!). But it’s also true that there are local treasures wherever you live. If you already love local gems in your area and want to give them a shout-out, please mention them in a comment below!

THANKS!

First of all, thank you, just in general, to all the local businesses I’ve highlighted in this post. I’m proud of you for persisting in the face of price-undercutting by “big box” and online competitors, COVID lockdowns, market crashes, inflation, tight job markets, and all the other challenges you’ve faced—sometimes for decades and across generations. You’re part of why I love my hometown.

Second, I deeply appreciate the sources of all the photos and logos used in this post. Please note that all images are credited in the cutlines. All montages, except the 4-photo collection from the US Coast Guard via Freight Waves at the top of this post, were assembled by Jan S. Gephardt.