Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Doing Business in The Real Key West

As it says up top there, there are two Key West's, and there are businesses that service each as well as those that service the other, or both.

I was thinking about that this morning as I bicycled around a bit, first to the Post Office, then the Library on Fleming St., and to the Coffee Plantation on Whitehead St. before coming home. The Post Office and the Plantation are pretty much a routine thing to do every day. I go to the Library when I'm looking for something in particular, as I was today.

We met Shirley Freeman at the Bahama Village Music Program benefit dinner last week. She mentioned the book written about her late husband "Billy", Billy Freeman, Florida Keys Sheriff, and I wanted to read it. When I got to the Library, I found that both copies they have in the catalog are noted as 1) missing, and (2 "hopelessly overdue". The Librarian I spoke to said that she'd be glad to set up an interlibrary loan. I demurred, telling her that I would instead see if Mrs. Freeman would donate a copy or two, as it appears to be no longer in print. I found one copy at Amazon.com, but the seller, a bookseller in Louisiana wanted $189.77 for it, and it's a paperback at that. No thanks!

Anyway, back to Real Key West businesses. The ones we use the most are the supermarkets. Albertson's is our first preference, then Publix, and finally Winn Dixie. Occasionally, to avoid having to go to the Boulevard, we'll buy something at Fausto's, or the Waterfront Market, or Circle K, but most of our shopping is done by Janet, on her days off, at one of the big supers on N. Roosevelt. These big markets are used principally by locals, then by part-time residents, next by short-term tourists staying in the hotels and guest houses. Only rarely will a cruise ship visitor ever get to the supermarkets, since they are here for such a short time, and the markets are too far away for most to walk there.

Here's a list of a few businesses we know about that are mainly shopped in by locals, the Real Key Westers:

Strunk Hardware/Manley-deBoer on Eaton St.
The Restaurant Store, also on Eaton, next to Strunk's.

Ross Dress for Less,
Pier 1,
Home Depot,
Walgreen's and Eckerds,
Border's Express,
Regal Cinema,
all on N. Roosevelt

Hot Cuts on Flagler Ave.

Besides these, there are many, many smaller, more specialized shops and businesses that don't depend on tourists for the bulk of their trade -- contractors, plumbers, electricians, and other tradesmen, for sure. Auto dealers, mechanics, lawyers, accountants, and the like. Many bars and restaurants in town get more than half their business from locals.

Working retail in Key West is, for most, a low-paying profession, driven by need for an income much more than by a passion for selling. There are exceptions to those jobs, retail positions in which the passion for what they are selling, and for selling itself, can be translated into income well-above average for those who are successful at it. These tend to be commissioned positions in stores or booths with high-ticket goods to sell, things like expensive apparel, jewelry, art, time shares, where the truly skilled salesperson can earn a day's pay with one good sale. A good waitperson or bartender can, I imagine, earn a well-above-median income if they are really good, and especially in higher-priced establishments.

We, like most people, tend to return to the places we like, over and over again, and thus to miss other good shopping venues. But these are our ways in Key West.

As an example of how we wind up discriminating amongst several establishments offering equivalent merchandise, I relate a conversation we had yesterday, after Janet spent a good portion of the morning shopping. It revolved around which supermarket we each preferred above the others, and it resulted in agreement that Albertson's is the place we both prefer. Except for the deli. Janet doesn't like the deli at Albertson's, not because they don't have good products at reasonable prices, but because the people who work in that department aren't very friendly.

Now Janet is an skilled and accomplished shopper. She can tell you which market has the best price on low-carb ice cream, or strawberries, pet food, or what have you almost from week to week. What she misses most here is the absence of cents-off coupons that we used to get in the weekly papers in NH, and in the mail. Couponing, probably for some sound economic reason, is virtually non-existent in Key West. In NH, one of the New England chains, Hannaford, even tripled coupon redemption discounts, and Janet would come home with an order showing as much as 50% off shelf prices. Here, 25% off is an indicator of some very sharp shopping on her part.

From time to time, as we come across a business that we like, we'll mention it here. Maybe it'll help some newcomer such as we once were.

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