The common belief is that the big box chains at strip malls, open air shopping centers and indoor malls dominate retail sales — as well as at stand-alone giants like Walmart, Big Lots and Kmart — but nothing could be further from the truth. Many mom and pop stores and small and medium sized locally-owned chains across New England play a huge role in great deals of retail items. That’s good for you, me and all of the six-state region! The Institute for Local Self Reliance states on its web site that shopping locally promotes, for starters, the ability to keep dollars in the local economy, as “locally owned businesses recycle a much larger share of their revenue back into the local economy, enriching the whole community.” ILSR adds that shopping locally also creates economic innovation and prosperity and a sense of community well being “by sustaining vibrant town centers, linking neighbors in a web of economic and social relationships, and contributing to local causes.” Equally important, shopping at small businesses encourages local prosperity and character by creating viably unique businesses in an otherwise generic, faceless retail scene. By supporting those that live in or near a community, you are helping your neighbor. Isn’t that what it should be all about?
When thinking of a store that epitomizes the spirit of a local small business, Wilson’s Department Store in Greenfield, Mass., first comes to my mind. I’d like to paint a picture of this masterpiece of an retro-style store that is still more than relevant in the 21st century — clearly a better shopping experience, to many, than the big box stores as evidenced by the multi generation crowds at this historic retail landmark.
Wilson’s stands as one of the last independent, family-owned department stores in the United States. The owners live in Greenfield and carry tremendous pride of ownership that respects and honors its 134 years in business at this classic Main Street USA location. The four selling floors — over 45,000 square feet — offer just about everything you need. I get goosebumps visiting here with the unmistakable but still unidentifiable, delightful old department store aroma, the ancient wooden staircases and old-time elevator giving access to the top floors, the housewares section with its creaky floors and low ceiling, and employees that have that special warmth and hospitality that we sadly see more of in old black and white Hollywood movies than in our current, fast-paced, often impersonal society. Walk into Wilson’s, and it’s like going back in time and being sheltered from the harsh elements of the 21st century. I would travel 90 miles to shop here for Christmas – or any other time of the year, for that matter — than drive three miles to shop at some generic big box store. They have virtually everything for women, men and children: women’s accessories, women’s sportswear, women’s coats, dresses, intimate apparel, juniors, alternative sportswear for women, men’s clothing (including young men and kids) formalwear, shoes, cosmetics, jewelry, luggage, domestics, gifts, clocks, lampshades, housewares, toys, stationery and a great candy counter. This isn’t cheaply made merchandise, either; Wilson’s sells many name brands that sometimes can’t even be found at big box chains. They always have tremendous deals going on, currently 20 to 60 percent off original prices as well as “Winter Home” and “Intimate Apparel” sales.
Additionally, one cliche we miss in today’s world is “service with a smile”, but this once-revered act of retail humanity seems to have never left Wilson’s. The department store has 14 registers, always open, fully staffed and scattered throughout the store. Sales associates seem more than happy to carry customer purchased merchandise to their cars at the two safe and secure store parking lots (free parking). Wilson’s also offers free use wheelchairs, strollers and shopping bags, as well as providing gift boxes and tissues at every counter, and a gift wrapping service on the third floor. The Wilson’s web site states that the Personal Shopping Service is available “with Betty Brewster available to do your shopping for you. She’ll gladly accept telephone and e-mail inquiries and orders, offering suggestions, helping with difficult shopping decisions, and even gift wrapping your purchases and having them delivered. Where have you seen this kind of service lately?”
I almost never write about retail store specials, but believe in Wilson’s so strongly that I felt overwhelmingly compelled to share with you some of these deals. Even more important that the deals, however, is that Wilson’s provides such a valuable service, year-round, to the Greenfield area and on a societal level, a prototype that proves that small businesses can succeed in a big box world. While I am certainly not against chains and often shop at them, my heart and mind feel more drawn to places like Wilson’s that offer a heartwarming connection to the traditional past while coming through in our modern world as a friendly retail shopping place where one can find virtually everything under one roof.
Wilson’s Department Store, 258 Main St., Greenfield MA. Tel. 413-774-4326