Here on Cape Cod the business landscape is dominated by family businesses and micro enterprises. One of the things I love about dealing with these small businesses is that the owner’s word is his bond; if he makes you a promise, he’ll keep it.
Commitments are honored; there’s no faceless bureaucracy to be blamed for changes in policy, pricing, etc. I prize this aspect of New England culture: the value placed on keeping one’s word. (I hope this is not a generational quality that is on its way to extinction…)
Last September my husband and I decided to replace our rusted exterior light fixtures with traditional Sandwich lanterns that are better designed to withstand marine environments. These fixtures are Colonial reproductions, a model that has been in use here for hundreds of years. These lanterns are made by a family business near Sandwich MA, and are very popular as fixtures for Cape Cod homes.
When we went shopping for fixtures last September, the business owner promised us a good discount for cash in lieu of credit card payment. He wrote his offer by hand on a scrap of paper.
Eight months later, having lost that scrap of paper, we returned to the Sandwich Lantern shop to see if they would honor the deal. Fortunately, the owner remembered us and sold us 9 lanterns for the price he had quoted last year.
As we were filling the car trunk with our new lanterns, we learned that the business owner had boxed and set aside the 9 promised lanterns last fall, waiting for us to come back this spring to pick them up. What wonderful old-fashioned values! We had not paid a deposit on these lanterns, so this was amazing on their part.
It’s clear when you visit this shop that it runs on paper. Not a computer in sight, stacks of paper everywhere. And even so, this model appears to work here on Cape Cod.
We’re always unsettled, if delighted, by the business traditions we encounter here. It’s almost like island living.
This is one of the many ways in which we have to downshift, and recalibrate our expectations for a slower pace. If you don’t want to be seen as a foreigner, you have to engage differently: relax into a slower and more personal mode of interacting with business owners and service providers when spending time on Cape Cod.
Despite New England’s reputation for cold, uncaring people, we find that every business deal or service exchange requires conversation and some personal sharing — even if only a comment on the Red Sox. The locals don’t enjoy purely transactional encounters.
If you plan to visit Cape Cod this summer, be prepared to engage with the people who live here. It’s a special place.