Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Thanksgiving boycott results

Back in November, I got up on my high horse and announced my intention to boycott all the stores that were planning to keep their doors open on Thanksgiving Day—thus denying their employees a Thanksgiving dinner with their families. I didn't count gas stations or supermarkets that were open for the morning only, since they provide services other people might need for their Thanksgiving celebrations; I only boycotted retail stores that were preempting Thanksgiving in order to get a head start on Christmas. At the time, I wasn't sure how easy this would be for me to stick to, but I was determined to try, if only out of sheer stubbornness.

Well, now that the Christmas season is officially over, I can report that the boycott was actually pretty easy. Since we generally try not to set foot in a mall during December if we can possibly avoid it, the prohibition had little impact on our Christmas shopping. The item we had most difficulty with was the new MP3 player we planned to get my mom to replace her somewhat cumbersome portable CD player. All the stores we could think of that were likely to carry such an item—Best Buy, Target, Sears—were on the "naughty" list. Of course, we could have ordered one on Amazon.com, which has everything, but they're on our blacklist too on account of their appalling labor practices. Besides, by the time we figured out that buying one in a store wouldn't be an option, we were afraid that ordering one might not get it to us in time for Hanukkah. So we decided the simplest solution was to give her our old Sandisk Sansa, which we hardly ever used anyway, and then buy ourselves a replacement at our convenience. This probably worked out even better than buying her a new one, since we were already familiar with the features of the old one and could show Mom exactly how to use it. And as it turns out, so far we haven't really felt any need to replace the MP3 player—so the boycott actually ended up saving us money, since we were able to give an unneeded item to a good home instead of buying a new one.

I also had a little trouble putting together the gift I planned to get my sister: a DIY kit for home mani-pedis. This was something she'd specifically asked for, and normally, it would be a simple request to fulfill. I found a list of all the items needed for a good home mani-pedi on this website, and it would have been as easy as the proverbial pie to stop in at local Rite Aid during my afternoon walk and pick them up. Unfortunately, Rite Aid was on the "naughty" list, and so was Walgreens, the only other big drugstore within a few miles. I tried the two independent drugstores we have here in Highland Park and found a couple of the items I was looking for, but neither store had all of them, so there was no way to complete this gift without visiting one of the big chains.

Fortunately, I discovered that CVS, the other major pharmacy chain her in New Jersey, was not on the "naughty" list. (A site called TheBlackFriday.com, which offers a comprehensive guide to Black Friday deals and hours, said that it was up to individual stores in the chain whether to open on Thanksgiving or not, and I decided that was good enough.) So one Thursday, on our way down to Princeton, Brian and I stopped in at a CVS to look for the items I needed. Surprisingly, the store we visited first didn't have all of them, and we ended up having to visit a second CVS on the weekend to complete the list. So this was the one gift on my list that was considerably harder to shop for because of my boycott. Still, considering that there were about 30 people on my holiday shopping list, having to go out of my way for only one present doesn't seem all that bad.

Avoiding the Rite Aid also caused a few complications in my everyday shopping. I realized about a week into my boycott that I was running low on some medicines I take regularly, like antihistamines. Since I couldn't just stock up at Rite Aid as I normally would, I turned to the local drugstores, figuring I'd just have to pay a bit more for a name-brand version as the price of my principles. But to my surprise, both our local pharmacies actually had store brands. One of them, Saiff Drugs, turns out to be a Good Neighbor Pharmacy—part of a network of local, independent drugstores that has its own house brand of many common drugs. And the other, Unite Pharmacy, carried products from Preferred Plus Pharmacy, a line of private-label drugs sold exclusively at independent pharmacies as a low-cost option. In fact, one of the products I needed actually cost less at Saiff Drugs than it normally does at Rite Aid. So even if my pointless protest did nothing to hold back the relentless tide of the Christmas season sweeping over Thanksgiving and everything else in its way, it had one definite benefit for me: it introduced me to these two local stores and the bargains to be found there. Yet one more example of the local advantage, in price as well as convenience and service.

Unfortunately, there was one service that the local pharmacies couldn't provide for me: a flu shot. Or rather, they could have given me one, but they couldn't accept my insurance to cover the cost. Apparently our insurer deals only with specific pharmacies, and the two independents here in town aren't part of that network. So I ended up cheating just a bit and going to Rite Aid for my flu shot. I tried to rationalize that I wasn't actually buying anything from the store, only using the services of the pharmacy, but it still felt like, at best, a technicality. If I try to do this same boycott again this year, I'll make sure to get my flu shot early and avoid this problem.

Nor was that the only time I had to cheat, or at least fudge, on my resolution. While we were in Indiana, out running errands with my in-laws, Brian said he wanted to stop at a craft store to pick up something he needed for a gift. The nearest craft store was Michael's, which was on the "naughty" list, but I didn't like to ask his folks to drive out of their way to go to the "nice" A.C. Moore instead. So I compromised by telling Brian he could get what he needed at Michael's, but I couldn't go in with him. Once again, it was sort of splitting hairs, but it let me at least pretend to stick to my pointless protest.

I also ended up bringing the protest to a slightly earlier conclusion than I'd planned. My goal was to boycott all the "naughty" stores throughout the entire holiday season, which I defined as lasting through the end of the year. However, as we headed home on December 31, I felt signs of a cold coming on, and I knew my only chance of heading it off was prompt treatment with zinc spray. (Yes, I know Consumer Reports claims it doesn't work, but they're basing that claim on a single study in which participants "began taking zinc regularly 24 to 48 hours from the onset of their colds." The thing is, if you look on the label, you'll see that it clearly advises you to start taking it "at the first sign of a cold." In my own experience, if I take zinc promptly at the first sign of a cold, it's usually milder and shorter, and sometimes I can avoid it completely; if I wait a day or two, it doesn't help at all.) So we stopped at the first convenient exist off of I-70 and went to the first available drugstore, which turned out to be a Walgreens. So I shaved one day off my planned boycott, but at least I made it through the holidays.

Even with these minor hiccups, I'd say that overall, the boycott was no big deal for us. Sure, it was a slight inconvenience having to make those extra trips to CVS, but it forced us to get creative with our shopping in other ways, which ended up saving us money on both my meds and my mom's gift. So on balance, I think the boycott actually did us more good than harm. And while I can't personally claim any credit for the fact that sales during Thanksgiving weekend were down by 11 percent last year, at least I can say that I held my own personal bit of ground against Christmas creep.
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