The High Cost of Not Shopping Local

Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal published a story about the effects of shopping online vs. shopping in our neighborhoods.

The story focuses on our own Sammy Atef of Pet’s Emporium on Montague Street; the writer is, like many of us are or were, a loyal customer, one who had so far resisted, unlike many of us, the lure of Chewy’s prices and conveniences.

Since moving to Brooklyn Heights last year, I’ve been a loyal customer at Pet’s Emporium, the little shop around the corner. And for good reason. Owner Sammy Atef memorized my order after one visit. He always offers a hugely exuberant greeting and showers my dog with treats.

But I couldn’t help notice the growing number of packages my neighbors were getting from Chewy, an online pet-food retailer. When I finally took a look, I was amazed. My preferred brand of kibble, which costs $17 a bag at Pet’s Emporium—and $16 on Amazon—costs $11.38 on Chewy.

I did the math. By choosing Chewy over Pet’s Emporium, I’d save $150 a year on Minnie’s chow.

I like Mr. Atef, but do I like him $150 worth?

It’s a horrible, horrible question.


In these very pages on more than one occasion, we’ve talked about pet food–Pet Smart vs. Heights Pets vs. Clark Pets vs. Beastly Bite. Cost vs. convenience. Shopping locally vs. saving money. I vociferously advocated for shopping locally, arguing that given the relative financial stability of many of us in the neighborhood, we could stand to pay more to support a local business…especially given the amount of time we spend bemoaning the influx of national and regional chains that denude our neighborhood of its personality and individuality.

Then: a little over a year ago, personal circumstances led to my turning to Chewy. The ease of delivery and lower prices made life manageable at a time when much felt out of control, and, I admit, I didn’t mind saving money and not having to schlep cat food and litter home. This despite the many times Sammy had given me free samples of food to use for shelter cats and rescues.

So you can imagine how I felt when I read…

While Mr. Atef, who has five children, has hiked prices to cover rising costs—including the high rent on Montague Street—revenue is flat, he says. He used to employ two clerks. Now, he works alone: 12 hours a day, seven days a week.

Do I look forward to spending more money on pet products? Nope. Will I do it? Yep, at least more often than I do now. Stores like Pet’s Emporium are a vanishing breed, and I’d rather pay a little more if it means that they can stick around. And as Chewy was last year purchased by behemoth PetSmart, it really does feel, now, like choosing Goliath over David to shop with Chewy, which in addition to low prices and variety does offer tremendous customer service as well.

Read the full story at the Wall Street Journal… (this story may be paywalled)

Photo of Sammy and customer Daisy is from a 2008 BHB story…to which I can’t help but respond: “Clark Pet has been there for TEN YEARS?” Lord, how time flies.


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  • AbeLincoln

    We stopped shopping with Sammy when our pets passed away. We will go right back to shopping with him when we get a new pet in the next few months. I hope the people in our neighborhood, who can afford their second and third homes, along with St Anns tuition, will reconsider shopping with Sammy. He is a a true gem.

  • StudioBrooklyn

    Sammy is a treasure. We rent and our kid is in private school only because of a scholarship; we’d be die-hard Pets Emporium supporters either way.

  • KaraBK

    Couldn’t agree with these posts more. Not long after moving here, I realized I mentioned Sammy every time I was asked what I love so much about Brooklyn Heights. He remembered me and my order after my very first visit and asks about my family each time I pop in.

  • Love Laner

    I will admit–we’ve become lazy and started using more and more. This post was the reminder I needed and we will be switching back to Sammy’s 100%!

  • Banet

    Our dog passed away 6 years ago and Sammy still greets me by name every time I walk by.

  • Andrew Porter

    A couple of days ago, I noticed a big van on my street with “Purrfect Paws” on the side. Turns out that when the store on the corner of Hicks and Pineapple, now a coffee shop, was evicted when the building was sold, they bought the van and have been doing mobile pet grooming ever since.

    The licensing costs and van payments are high, but at least they’re still in business.

    I don’t have a pet, but I see a lot of people in my building who do buy their pet supplies on line.

  • AbeLincoln

    It’s interesting that people in the neighborhood are willing to spend upwards of $4 for a small cup of coffee but unwilling to purchase pet food from a beloved local vendor because the price is slightly higher than can be found online.

  • Joe Ziemer

    Frank from Purrfect Paws is great. He still grooms many dogs in the neighborhood and we can’t recommend him enough.

  • KXrVrii1

    Not a very good comparison in my opinion.

    I personally think $4+ coffees are stupid, but people are paying both for the convenience (can’t order a coffee for delivery in 5 minutes online) and the experience.

    And the article references $150 per year savings from purchasing online. So if customers decide the experience / charitable feeling from keeping a local vendor alive is worth that much, great. But it also suggests the business model is fairly broken, and the fact that people choose to spend their money on what you perceive as more frivolous things doesn’t change that.

  • Teresa

    You can get a coffee for $1 or $1.25 at any number of local delis, bodegas, or coffee carts, and that’s pretty convenient and speedy, too.

  • AbeLincoln

    Yep. Go to bodega, get your coffee and with all that money you save you can support a beloved local vendor.

  • KXrVrii1

    First, lots of people don’t really want coffee nowadays, they want coffee flavored milkshakes…

    Second, you are kind of making my point. Bodegas survive because they are convenient, and as you note in the case of coffee, sometimes even cheaper. I don’t go to bodegas to support local vendors, I go when I don’t feel like going to the supermarket cause they are closer (even if a little more expensive). They remain a viable niche / local business model despite huge physical and e-commerce competitors.

  • AbeLincoln

    Not sure what you’re talking about regarding milkshakes but my point is that people have disposable income and withe a little effort on their part they can do a lot of good for someone in the nabe.

  • StudioBrooklyn

    I think that was supposed to be a jab at the “Frappucino” family of sugary drinks now on offer in some coffee shops (the ones that compete with Starbucks). I’m not sure how much of a cornerstone of their business those drinks are, but there is certainly something to be said for the atmosphere: these places are frequently used as rendezvous spots and even coworking spaces. You can’t sit down and connect to wifi (usually) at a bodega or a food truck.

  • St. Georgette

    The WSJ quote above about saving $150 annually on pet food and wondering if shopping local is worth $150 made me realize that of course it is! It’s easy to look at a $17 bag of dog food and a $11.63 bag of dog food and know which one you’d choose but doing the math like that has the opposite effect for me. It really isn’t a horrible question. It is good question.
    We love this neighborhood and we all pay more to live here than we would somewhere else. But we do it for the location, the beauty and the charm.
    This story will now inspire me to take a good look at what I am buying online and figuring out what I can buy locally.
    The one place I miss the most is Heights Books. Weird that now shopping at Barnes and Noble is like supporting a small business.

  • Teresa

    Both are a bit further afield, but I love Books are Magic in Cobble Hill and Greenlight Books in Ft. Greene. You can order from both places, too.