Charles: My love-hate relationship

A week or so ago, my husband and I found ourselves both at home on a day off together, with no real plans. In the pre-pandemic era, this unicorn of a day would mean an afternoon movie theater date (bad popcorn required) and maybe there would be dinner at a fair-to-middling restaurant later.

But with COVID-19 and all the streaming services, those days of sitting in a darkened movie theater surrounded by strangers reside in a galaxy far, far away. We’re not going to be sitting among unmasked (how else do you eat bad popcorn?) strangers any time in the foreseeable future.

No, this time our day date meant we got to run mundane errands — to the hardware store, a big box store, and of course, to Target. Don’t tell me we don’t know how to party.

Anyway, here’s my dilemma. It starts with the fact that I hate shopping as a rule. Clothes shopping makes me feel like throwing myself on a department store floor, kicking and screaming like an overtired toddler. The only reason I don’t whenever I’m invited on a shopping trip is because it takes me too long to get down on the floor, and even longer to get back up.

But I still want to support brick and mortar stores. There are few things more depressing than emptying malls, boarded-up former mom and pop shops, and other places that every year seem to lose more hustle and bustle. So on this day, my husband and I drove to the places we needed to go to pick up one or two items that would have cost less than the price of the gas we were spending — had we been able to find them.

That’s the rub. Now that we’re able to venture out into the wilderness, we’re finding less inventory on the shelves, even in some of the bigger establishments. And that day wasn’t just a one-off. A couple of weeks before, I had driven a tad out of my way to a beauty supply store to pick up something it used to stock. After the necessary indignity of having to wait outside until more customers left so I could come in, the clerk told me that not only was the item I wanted not there, it hadn’t been in awhile and she wasn’t sure when they would get it. She advised me to try back on Monday, when new supplies were coming in.

I didn’t go back that Monday. And just as after our few tiny items were nowhere to be found at the hardware store, or at Target, I did what I (and just about everyone else) have been doing even before the pandemic, but now with a new fervor. I went on Amazon. 

I admit it, I shop online for just about everything. Before the internet, there was me with the JC Penney catalog that had 24-hour service and a store card used so often I had long memorized the numbers. 

Now, Amazon makes it way too easy to get what I need when I need it, if I’m willing to wait a day or two. And while I add to the coffers of one of the richest men in the world, I hate myself. I’m pro-living wages, pro-union, pro-worker, pro-bathroom breaks. HBO’s John Oliver’s take on Amazon’s working conditions added to my self-loathing. 

I hate Amazon. I love Amazon. Amazon drivers are ubiquitous in our neighborhoods, aren’t they? As stores and restaurants closed down, this rich man got richer. Sure, Amazon boasts it has a $15 minimum wage (still barely livable, depending on where you are), but numerous reports have shown the horrendous working conditions. And now that workers in Bessemer, Ala., are looking to unionize, Oliver’s report also showed the company’s anti-union tactics, even as they claim to be a great place to work.

In the same way restaurant owners may assume you wouldn’t be willing to pay more for your food if the waitstaff was paid fairly, Amazon counts on its customers to want to buy low, even if it hurts the rest of the economy. 

And it’s not always an easy choice, even when you want to do right by your brick and mortar stores. If a vitamin supplement costs $25 at CVS and $11 on Amazon, and it’s something I take regularly, which am I going to buy? 

I like buying locally. I hate when I can’t. I hate searching store after store after store. I love being able to click on what I need from my phone and get it in a day. Every day, every convenient purchase that somewhere may be hurting a small business owner leaves me conflicted and feeling guilty.

I hate you Amazon. Now let me get the door.

More Stories In Opinion