Why You Should Shop Small, Local, & In Person For Art Supplies

shopsmallThese days most people know it’s good to “Shop Small” or “Think Globally, Shop Locally,” but they don’t always know why. You may buy all organic local vegetables, but don’t know why you’d be better off buying your paints or canvas from a small local store like Merion Art, rather than at a big-box store or online. Here are some reasons why shopping for your art supplies in person, at small, local stores can be good for you, your community, and your wallet, all at the same time.

In a small brick and mortar store like Merion Art, you can communicate with professionals on staff- Small retail businesses are more likely to hire people with experience in the field they serve, as opposed to big box retail stores. You can ask questions and get an instant answer, amalgamate your trial and error lessons with theirs, and make personal local connections with other artists in your community. Obviously, you can communicate online (we’re doing it right now!), but if you’ve ever sent a misunderstood text or an email that languished in a spam folder past its useful time, you know that face-to-face real-time communication is still faster and more reliable. This is especially true for those of us who have a tendency to use sound effects, hand gestures, or the word “thingy” when describing something we want; retail workers are very, very good at charades and better at guessing games than Google is. 

“I need, like, acrylic, but with some thingies mixed in it for texture, you know? And a silicone brush with like, little *gestures* on the ends?”

Shopping in person allows you to physically see, feel, smell, and experience the things you are thinking of buying- This is essential for artists- shopping local and in-person allows you to check paper, paint, and pastel colors, and try them under different lighting conditions, so that you can assemble a custom palette without guessing. Smell is also important- knowing that a certain product has a strong odor and taking appropriate steps can be important, especially if you have an in-home studio! Shopping in person allows you to test the feel of different kinds of materials. Texture, weight, consistency, and friction matter! When shopping online, you can’t feel the weave or bounce of a canvas, check the tooth of different kinds of paper, swish a brush across your palm to test for spring and softness, or feel the weight of a pen and how it glides and writes. This sensory access to your art materials gives you more control over your creative process.  

You gotta check if it’s a happy little brush.

When you’re physically in the store, you can check quality up close and compare brands in real-time- You can shake the box, kick the tires, and take products for a test run. You can weigh a different paintbrush in either hand and check their balances. You can compare quality and different brands by testing or talking to other artists, and experienced staff. This is important when you’re thinking of upgrading or buying something high end. Buying something new online is always just a guess and a prayer. It’s worth it to remember that you can’t believe everything you read on the internet- sellers online may only want to make a sale, and they will say anything to sell the product. It’s in a local sales associate’s best interest to get you what you actually want or need: they are part of your community, and moreover, they know that if they misrepresent a product, you’ll be back next week to harangue them in person.  

Always a good idea to do a little comparison shopping…

Inspiration is boosted by shopping in person– You can wander down aisles full of products you’ve never even thought about using, and come up with new ideas on how to incorporate them into your work. You can read the backs of boxes, leaf through how-to books, see associated products, find out about specialized tools, and make connections. You might see new colors or mediums that inspire a change in your style, or find the answer to a question you didn’t know you had.

belle bookstore
Me, with an hour to spend in an art store

You may find an amazing deal- A brick and mortar store is all about physical space and logistics. Space is valuable and sometimes a physical store will place things on sale simply to free up more space. This happens in every retail business (think 50% off Halloween candy on Nov 1st), and returning the items to the distributor is often not an option. Most of the time, these items are not damaged or defective in any way. In physical stores, you can often find deep discounts on overstocked items, discontinued stock, superficially scratched-and-dented items, items that will be going out of season, or items that didn’t seem to sell at this particular store (sometimes there just isn’t a local market for an otherwise amazing product). The only way to find these store-specific discounts and deals is to go in and look around in person. The treasure-hunting, bargain finding aspect can be incredibly satisfying for a customer!

“Hmmm, 50% off Holbein Artist Oils… must be a trap.”

Shopping small helps local businesses know what you want to buy- Rather than having to follow some kind of national sales plan, small businesses are able to tailor what they carry to the attitudes and specific needs of the area they are in. Unlike a big-box national chain, if we find there is a large community of encaustic artists in the Main Line area, we can expand our encaustic offerings, and if it turns out no one is into adult coloring books anymore, we don’t have to carry them. Small businesses are not beholden to shareholders in another state, they’re only beholden to their customers. We can immediately give our customers more of what they want and less of what they don’t.

shopping puppy
So you can shop happy!

Shopping local helps the local economy- Money spent at small businesses stays in the community at a much higher rate than money spent at big-box stores. Your tax dollars stay local, improving your roads, your town, your schools, and your life. Shopping locally helps your community: according to the Institute for Local Self Reliance and a multitude of studies, “small-scale, locally owned businesses create communities that are more prosperous, entrepreneurial, connected, and generally better off across a wide range of metrics.”…”These studies find that the increasing size of corporations is driving inequality, while local and dispersed business ownership strengthens the middle class.” Plus, small businesses give a town a unique character, and employees who live and work locally have a vested interest in making the community strong.  It’s a win win!

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