Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Wandering down to West Virginia

A few thoughts from a quick trip over the weekend to The Highlands, the shopping development just over the state line on I-70 on the way to Wheeling:

– The missus and I paid a visit to the Books a Million store at The Highlands, and after browsing for quite a while, I walked out without making a purchase. The reason: They didn't have a single thing that I couldn't buy online and have delivered right to my front door. At a cheaper price. I'm pretty sure that retail bookstores are about to go the way of record stores. The Books a Million Store was very nice, as are the Borders and Barnes & Noble stores up by South Hills Village, but when a person can buy a book from the comfort of their own home and save money in the process, what's the incentive for folks to drive to one of these stores? When the Borders Express store closed at the Franklin Mall, it meant nothing to me. I hadn't been there a half dozen times over the previous few years. One reason is that there just weren't very many books there. My online bookseller of choice offers thousands more titles than the traditional bookstore, as well as CDs, DVDs, clothing, etc. Plus, I can order used books from vendors affiliated with this particular online retailing giant, saving myself even more money. And I'm not one of those “techies” who wants to read books on a Kindle or some other such electronic apparatus. I like reading a good, old-fashioned hardbound book. I like the smell of them. I like the heft of a good book in my hands. I like falling asleep with one open on my chest. In short, I love books. I just don't love bookstores anymore, at least not enough to make a regular trip.

– I also stopped by Quaker Steak and Lube for lunch. From what I understand, their wings are their pride and joy. Maybe I just hit them on a bad day, but the wings I had were nondescript, tough and dry. I must say that the cheesy, bacon-sprinkled fries I had on the side were outstanding, and from the looks of the menu, I think I'd like to try their burgers and soup, but the wings. Meh. I've had better wings as several establishments much closer to home, including my favorite (and the closest), Breezy Heights Tavern. I think I'll stick with the locals from now on when I want some tasty chicken extremities.

– One of the (typically false) arguments used by those who favor keeping the Soviet-style Pennsylvania liquor sales system is that the clerks at our state stores are the only thing standing between us and private businessmen forcing booze into the hands of drunks and schoolchildren. They paint a horrible picture of unfettered sales by unscrupulous wine merchants interested only in making a buck. Well, it’s certainly not that way with the private-enterprise system in West Virginia, at least based on my experience Saturday. I went into a Target store to buy a couple of bottles of wine – buying wine conveniently, what a concept – and when I approached the young girl at the cash register, she asked to see my ID. Now, I'm 51 years old. On my best day, and with a cashier suffering from extreme astigmatism, I might pass for 40. Nevertheless, the young lady wanted to see my identification. She then took my driver's license, made sure the photo matched my face, and swiped the magnetic strip on my license through a slot in her cash register. Whether that's to make sure that the license was legit or to keep a record of who is buying booze, I'm not sure, but I am sure that West Virginia isn't the Wild West when it comes to alcohol sales.

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Blogger Greg said...

Very chatty, interesting blog. About an hour ago I purchased a cable I needed, on Ebay. I thought about going to the local Radio Shack, but Ebay is cheaper and more convenient.

I agree with you Brant, the internet has made shopping so convenient. We have a PAypal account that makes it safe and secure.

I often worry about your future with the newspaper, but I think people like holding it and smelling it as they read their morning news.

I just wish that they put the daily comics on the OR website. Then I could read them online before I get the paper. :)
(Park Burroughs gave me the explanation why, but it didn't make much sense.)

March 16, 2010 at 3:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hear there's a move afoot to make universal what 22 state now have laws for: to collect the state taxes that online retailers don't charge unless the buyer happens to be in the same state where the retailer has a "bricks & mortar" presence. The bill would require the online merchant to collect the tax as long as they have any presence in the state of the buyer, such as an online affiliate with actual stores in the state. Amazon.com is fighting the move and has dumped affiliates in some states.

If the moves goes through in PA, the savings through online will be at least 6% less.

March 16, 2010 at 7:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The state liquor stores are a joke and most of the employees are rude, crude and indifferent. Just last week there was only one check-out aisle open with four people in line. Not ten feet away were three other employees laughing and joking, completely ignoring the customers. I realize four people doesn't especially constitute a long line, but the experience highlights my opinion that the state store employees have zero idea of the definition of the word "service".

March 17, 2010 at 9:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chain bookstores might not be where it's at, but independents are wonderful -- they are owned and operated by people who are passionate about books and usually very knowledgeable and able to give you recommendations based on the books you enjoy and have purchased in the past. Some sell rare, used, out-of-print, signed and collector's editions!

Recently, I was in a hurry at my local independent and the wait was long, so the owner told me to simply take the books in my hands and pay him later, because I was a trusted repeat customer -- try getting that sort of service at Amazon!

Also, if you didn't know this about Amazon, it delists books the operators don't like -- it has delisted books about gay and lesbian issues and recently delisted St. Martin's Press books after a dispute with the publishing house -- so the variety might not be as wide as you believe.

There are other online book retailers, but there's a one-on-one human interaction you just can't get with the online sellers.

Also, I've never seen a favorite author do a reading at an online retailer! Nor do they provide comfy couches and hot coffee!

March 17, 2010 at 12:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with your opinion on Quaker Steak and Lube. Those are the worse wings I've ever had. My favorite right now is Drovers. I'm hearing a lot of good things about the Wings to Go at the Highlands.

But not only are the wings bad at Quaker Steak but it's very expenisve there. My hubby and I had lunch there one day and our tab was $55 for meals that were very bland. We won't be going back.

March 17, 2010 at 12:59 PM  
Anonymous Newslady said...

I'm glad you wrote about this, because I think the Highlands are way better than shopping in Washington. The Wal-Mart actually has parking, it's clean and hardly ever crowded.

I like Books-a-Million, and I frequently shop there and online at Amazon, because sometimes I just like to browse. I have found two authors I really like because I had the chance to look around, and I use a discount card, which knocks the price down significantly, so long as you are a frequent shopper.

QS&L does have crappy wings - and I just can't believe you would go to Breezy Heights rather than driving the extra few miles to Drovers! If you have never been, let me tell you, the wings are the best ever. They are consistenly voted the best in the tri-state area. Nothing like the bar wings you are probably used to.

I hear they are building a water park there this year - wonder if that is still true?

March 17, 2010 at 2:30 PM  
Blogger Brant said...

I couldn't agree with you more about that Wal-Mart. It's a really nice store, much preferable to the one in Washington. And that parking lot at the Washington Wal-Mart has to be the most dangerous place to drive in the entire county. I avoid it if at all possible. I've been to Drover's many a time (including the times I went there underage to drink beer because the bartender didn't ask many questions), but I don't find their wings to be any better than Breezy Heights, and Breezy is a lot closer to my house. The last thing I heard was that they were breaking ground for that water park at the Highlands, but I'm wondering if the economy has put the brakes on that project.

March 17, 2010 at 4:54 PM  
Blogger Lori said...

I love books the same way for the same reasons. It's very relaxing to fall asleep with a book on my chest and my husband carefully removes it for me so as not to disturb me.
I'm currently reading "That Dark and Bloody River" It is a history of the tri-state area. It's big and falling asleep holding it is dangerous. I have dropped it on my face a few times.
Was it you that said, "Have the wings a Breezy Heights", when I came home for my Class Reunion? I would have to agree, they are the best restaurant wings I ever had. Perfect hot without being bitter.

March 17, 2010 at 10:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't undertand the fascination with wings. Effort required eat them is way out of proportion to what you get. Why not just really spice up a chicken "plank" and get a real mouthful of chicken?

Besides, if I want to eat things so hot that they make me sweat, Thai and Indian restaurants offer much more interesting fare, and some of it's vegetarian. Green Mango in Monroeville has a great veggie curry.

We haven't eaten at QS&L since the waiter dropped my onion rings on the floor, picked them up and put them on the table.

March 19, 2010 at 11:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Greg, when local stores close because of lack of business, will you be the first in line to wonder why?

O-R just published a story about a local school hiring a national chain to do school photographs. When the decision reached the school board, they were surprised that a local photography service was not used, rather one from out of state.

People are failing to understand how a business works. When a business sells goods and/or services, they should be earning a profit. The profit enables the owner to maintain the business as a viable entity. When the net profit disappears (expenses > sales), the business will likely close down. The situation is no more complex, no simpler, than that.

When people choose to spend their money elsewhere, the locals loose the profit potential. Just like the local photographer is not getting the work, the money spent for the school photos is now sent to another state. Your decision to buy Ebay because it is cheaper and more convenient is a statement that you are willing to let the local business entities bite the dust. Yes, Radio Shack is a national chain, but the local franchise holder still earns profit on what is sold at the local store.

This model follows other local businesses too, such as O-R. Several months ago, some folks were laid off. Brant retains his job, but still chooses to buy Internet. So, in one case, he chooses to spend money elsewhere, hence the profits are sent elsewhere, yet continues to wonder if O-R will be a viable entity in the future.

Often when a Wal-Mart is moving to an area, some segment of the population objects to the plan, citing a negative impact on local merchants as one reason. Yet, the same folks who are objecting to the local Wal-Mart moving into an area, are shopping online because it is "cheaper and more convenient." I've read it over and over again. If wanting to support the locals is so important, then they would cancel their PayPal account, and do no Internet shopping. There is a clear inconsistency to the arguments.

March 20, 2010 at 7:14 PM  
Blogger Brant said...

Book purchases online are an anomaly for me. Really, I buy very little online, and I try to patronize locally owned businesses as much as possible. But in the book area, my choices were limited. When there was a locally owned bookstore at Washington Mall, I shopped there often. The Borders Express (Waldenbooks) store was always a sorry excuse for a bookstore, and the one that's going in there now is a discount book store that isn't likely to have many of the titles I'm interested in. I can drive to South Hills Village or West Virginia, or I can go on the Internet, save significant money and have the books dropped on my doorstep. In this particular instance, my choice is clear.

March 21, 2010 at 7:54 AM  
Blogger Joe Tuscano said...

Brant, you hit a nerve with this one. I am amazed over how few bookstores existed in this town in the 30 years I've lived here. It's a college town without a decent bookstore. That's amazing.

The internet might beat bookstores in terms of convenience. But what makes a bookstore so special is when you walk in for one thing and find another book you would never have bought otherwise. That just doesn't happen very often over the internet.

There is something personal about a book. The feel, the texture of the page, the spacing of the lines that you don't get from a computer screen.

March 23, 2010 at 12:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Joe, are those the reasons we don't read blogs on a PC screen?

Maybe there are others. Just asking the question, with no answer. Everybody may feel differently about the texture of the screen, or the resolution.

March 23, 2010 at 9:52 PM  
Anonymous x anonymous said...

oxymoron: W.VA and Book store!

March 25, 2010 at 1:13 PM  

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