LAST TUESDAY — it was unseasonably hot last week, was it not? — I telephoned a friend. Let's call her "Bonnie." Bonnie had just returned from an outing to the Target store in San Leandro.
She'd exchanged a pair of shoes she'd bought for her 5-year-old. "Little brown Mary Jane's for school," she said. "They were too small." Bonnie also bought toilet paper, a pair of tights for her older daughter ("Because she needs them, and they were $3.14) and two containers for storing leftovers in the fridge. "Like Tupperware," she said, "but glass."
Like it or not, when you're running a household — and there are roughly 30,000 households in Alameda — there are many itty-bitty details to contend with. Children need clothes that fit. You might want a new picture frame for your mantel, a latch for the window. Or it's time for a new smoke detector or dishwashing detergent, cat food or that enzymatic odor eater for neutralizing cat urine.
Such errands are not glamorous and, more often than not, there's a need, as another friend said, to "economize." "It's kind of disheartening," said "Beth" who told me that she and her husband have to keep a close eye on their budget. "When you can't get what you need in Alameda — or if you can get it somewhere else at a much better price — you leave."
Beth says she often heads south on Interstate 880 for work clothes. And while she loves Pagano's and appreciates the service at Encinal Hardware, she says, "Let's face it, you can't get everything there. And sometimes you go over to Home Depot."
But why are we talking about shopping? And budget-friendly little-girl tights? Big local news earlier this month were the objections of many to the plan to put an Orchard Supply Hardware in the old Safeway building at Towne Centre.
The tough stand against the new store reminded me of opposition to Target at South Shore in 2006. While many busy residents I know had their fingers crossed, hoping for an affordable, close-to-home option, many other Alamedans fought the store, seeing it as a threat to established businesses and a source of increased traffic. And most of us have a preference for locally-owned businesses over chain stores. Good points, all.
But then there are life's errands. Alamedans already leave the island for bargains. A good portion of our retail dollars migrate to places like Hayward, Emeryville, Walnut Creek and San Leandro. Places that have options, variety and sometimes better prices. While studies show tens of millions of dollars in "retail leakage," most of us don't need a study. We know where we go to buy a dishwasher or slacks or plywood.
Did you know that the city of Alameda cut millions in services last year? And as the state and federal budgets continue to go south, there will be more cuts.
Did you know that sales tax dollars add about $5 million each year to city coffers? And that they constitute Alameda's fourth largest source of revenue?
When we shop elsewhere, other cities use our money to trim the trees in their parks, to pave their roads, to staff their senior centers, to pay for their police and firemen. Good for them, not so good for us.
Maybe we need to rethink our resistance. Remember how some Alamedans fought the theater tooth and nail? But in the end, is it really the devil? Has it destroyed life as we know it? You could even argue it has made Park Street more vibrant.
Many of us, making our way through the obligations of our days, will be a glad for a few more options. "At least there's Old Navy and Children's Place now," Bonnie told me. "I get a lot of things for the girls there."
Eve Pearlman also writes the Alameda Journal Blog. Look for news, impressions and opinion at www.ibabuzz.com/alamedajournal.