Hello encaustic aficionados, it’s Bill Womack, Linda’s other half and part-time construction worker. I had an experience when buying building supplies for the new studio this weekend that I must share.

Linda had seen a coupon in our local paper that purported to offer a $100 gift card for any purchase of $100 or more in insulation from Home Depot. We’re artists, and being perpetually on a tight budget is just part of life. Although my conscience nagged at me, I had to go with the big box store over our local guys given an offer like that.

The insulation aisle was fairly easy to find, but it took me a while to figure out exactly which of the hundreds of rolls was right for our project, both in R-value and width. Finally, I located the right stuff and started piling it on my cart. I loaded up several human-sized bundles, then hit a pallet of factory-wrapped rolls that laughed at my feeble attempts to claw it open. What I needed was a knife-wielding orange-aproned employee, but they’re as common as spotted owls these days. After a trek through the store to find someone who wasn’t feigning being busy, I convinced a bored young dude to slit the bundle open for me.

New problem: the enormous cart I’d commandeered was still too small for the pile of insulation I needed. The apron and its owner had vanished, and I stood vexed in the aisle, trying to figure out how I was going to schlep all that fiberglass to the checkout stand and then into my truck. I ended up piling it too high and pushing it, teetering dangerously, through the crowds and up to the register.

On a hunch, I mentioned the $100 gift card offer to the cashier before she started ringing up the sale. “Oh yeah, I think I heard something about that,” she said, not inspiring confidence. She wandered off to ask someone, and came back shaking her head. “That offer is only if we install the insulation.”

I stared at the tower of pink, squinted through the front window at my truck across the expanse of parking lot, and something snapped. Maybe it was the scarcity of helpful employees, or the attitude of the ones I was able to lasso, or maybe I was just tired of the whole cattle-drive mentality. “You know, I think I’m done,” I said. I parked my cart, knocked the fiberglass dust from my hands, and walked out.

On the way home, I paid a visit to our funky little local building supply house, Mr. Plywood. The guy behind the counter greeted me as I came in, asked to help, and within a minute we’d figured out what type of insulation I needed and how much. He sprung off across the store with me in tow, loaded the rolls onto the carts, and even helped me toss them into the truck bed. The experience was like night and day, a bold reminder that buying from the little guys and shopping locally can have big rewards. Oh yeah, and it was cheaper than the orange guys, too.

If you’re a Portlander and need building supplies, I highly recommend Mr. Plywood. If you’re not from around here, do yourself a favor and go the extra mile next time you need something. Shake off that big-box conditioning ingrained in each of us, and go looking for a local mom-and-pop that might have what you need. You might just find a great new resource.