One of the best things about living in a small town is that when you go into a store, they treat you like an old friend. The clerks smile, welcome you in and spend some time with you at the checkout counter visiting about your kids and your dog.

One of the worst things about living in a small town is that when you go into a store, they treat you like an old friend. The clerks spend some time with you at the checkout stand asking questions about your kids and your dog.

It all depends on your perspective. Most of the time, it’s wonderful to be acknowledged, to feel welcome and to know that somebody cares enough about you to ask about your kids and your dog. Or the fact that they even know you have a dog.

But if you are the person in line behind the person at the checkout stand who is reveling in all this attention, jumping at the chance to talk about his kids and his dog, well, it can be distracting. As it was for me the other day, standing in line behind an elderly gentleman who perhaps hasn’t been out in public much during this pandemic.

My arms were full of cat food and household cleansers and flashlight batteries because, as usual, I went into the store only for the cleansers and ended up picking up a bunch of other stuff I hadn’t planned on. So by the time I got to the checkout stand, my arms were full to bursting.

And there was this old guy, just lapping up a chance to talk to a real person. In no hurry. Neither was the clerk. Conversation is part of the perks when you shop in your local hometown store where they know you.

Of course, they’re aware that there are other customers in the store who need to be waited on. And they’re aware that the more customers you can push through the turnstile, the more money they can make.

But in a small town — and in some bigger towns where they hire smart people — business owners know that making money isn’t everything.

People sometimes prefer to shop in the big city where you get shoved through the checkout line like cattle in a chute. They think they’re saving money, but they also might be missing out on something more important.

I’ve been to places where the clerk doesn’t even make eye contact and treats you only as the navigator of a credit card. And I’ve also been to stores, especially in this small town, where they take their time, treat me like an old friend and ask about my dogs and kids while people in line behind me have to wait.

Well, so what was I in such an all-fire hurry about? Getting home to clean the toilet? I set my stuff down on the floor and decided to shake off my bad attitude. Watching this old gentleman talk about his wife, his kids and his dog got to be interesting. He was having such a good time that before long, I was enjoying it, too.

When he finished, he walked away with a smile on his face and a lightness in his step. I hadn’t lost anything but a few minutes of my time. And guess what — when I got home, the toilet was still there.

Hedberg may be contacted at kathyhedberg@gmail.com or (208) 983-2326.