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How Much Loyalty Do I Owe My Local Shops?

Am I a traitor for ditching one mom-and-pop place for another one?

Susan Sermoneta/Flickr

Dear CityLab: I’ve been going to the same family-owned dry cleaners for ages. But now, a new one opened up a few blocks closer to my apartment. Is it crappy of me to give up the old place so I don’t have to walk as far?

We get it: when it’s raining, or you’re tired, or you just want to teleport home as fast as you can, a few blocks can feel like a lot. So should you ditch your old go-to for a new one? CityLab staffers couldn’t agree, so we decided to put together a little point/counterpoint.

Say goodbye

You shouldn’t feel the slightest moral qualm about switching to a new shop. You’re a busy person in a busy place, and one of the reasons you endure that pace and cost of life is the convenience of urban amenities.

Let’s take two family-run coffee shops of equal quality. Walking to the one you’ve been patronizing could be seen as a sign of loyalty. But isn’t it also an act of disloyalty to the new one—one whose only crime has been to locate a bit closer to where you’ve chosen to live?

Nor, for that matter, is it even wrong to start patronizing a major chain, if that’s what’s now closest to you. Sure, it may not be owned by a hard-working mom and pop, but it’s staffed by baristas who are trying to get by just the same. Your only mistake here is about taste, because Starbucks coffee is terrible.

Of course, there are reasons to have consumer loyalties—price, quality, and service, among them—even those that come at the expense of your most valuable resource on Earth: time. But think of the larger harm you’re doing by insisting on going to an old shop out of principle. What small business would bother opening a new one? — Eric Jaffe

(Thomas Hawk/Flickr)

Stick around

Look, the world is already a dark, depressing place—the refugee crisis, economic troubles, terrorism, and the possibility that Donald Trump will become the next U.S. president are all evidence of that. At times like this, you've got to hold the people you hold dear—your friends, your family, your neighborhood dry cleaning guy—closer.

Friends and family are kind of obvious—you have to keep those people around. But I would argue that, especially in uncertain times, there's a need to remain loyal to neighborhood mom-and-pop operations that you've patronized for years, too.

These people have made a strange, new neighborhood in a cold, new city, feel like home. Whether you were single or with someone, with or without a job, sober or drunk, freezing or sweaty, these guys were always there, offering a kind word and a ready smile—and, always—good service. If you think about it, they've probably been one of the few staples in your life.

Switching over to new dry cleaning place that's closer would certainly be more efficient. And sure, you can argue that you're helping a new small business break into your neighborhood by giving them your business. Plus, there's no contract that says you can't switch allegiances.

But if it's really not drastically cheaper and more convenient to switch, I would say it's worth sticking with the dry cleaners you've gone to in the past. They would appreciate your loyalty, for sure. But you might find comfort, too, in knowing that amid all the dizzying changes in the city, country, and the world that you can't control, there are some things that can stay the same. Because you let them. — Tanvi Misra

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