King of the world, that’s who I am all right, in my own mind at least (where it counts). For I have replaced a rusted-out leaking drain on our laundry room sink, notwithstanding my normally plumbing-challenged handyman skills. There was something tremendously fulfilling about successfully dismantling the decrepit parts and installing the fresh new parts, adding the dollop of plumber’s putty, tightening the, um, whatever-you-call-its that needed to be tightened, turning on the water, and hearing the water run down the drain with nary a drip.
The list of those I’d like to thank for enabling me to achieve this marvelous accomplishment is short: the great guys at Saffron Supply in downtown Salem, that’s the beginning and end of it. This is the sort of place that can’t be allowed to disappear in the shadow of all the Lowes, Home Depots, and the like. I shamefully admit that I have a fondness for the bright lights, neatly stocked shelves, and cheerful employees at the Lowe’s store here in Salem.
But when you don’t know much about plumbing, and are carrying a plastic bag filled with a bunch of dirty, broken plumbing parts that no longer are plumbing for you, a place like Saffron Supply is where you want to be. It looks like it hasn’t changed much in decades. Wooden bins are filled with mysterious plumbing and electrical parts. When you pay, a pad is pulled out and you get a handwritten paper receipt. No women were in evidence, either staff or customers. I was careful not to wear a batik shirt last Wednesday, knowing that I would be entering the plain denim world of Saffron Supply.
Like a real man, I forthrightly admitted my ignorance right off the bat. I held up my bag of parts and said, “Whatever all this stuff is, it isn’t working any more.” I then made a concise plea for help, making sure that I threw in the phrase “plumbing-challenged” several times. The Saffron guy then took over. He walked over to one of the wooden bins, pulled out a shiny new thing-a-ma-bob and said, “This is what you used to have.” Wow! So that’s what it used to look like thirty-three years ago when our house was built! He then grabbed various other connectors, seals, and what not, and put together a perfect replica of the drain that used to drain before it stopped draining.
As I was gazing with wonder at the glory of the apparatus he had assembled for me, cradling it in my plumbing-challenged hands, the Saffron magic man walked up with a can of plumber’s putty and said, “Now, this is the piece de resistance. Have you ever used it before?” I thought that I probably had, but figured that the more ignorant I appeared, the more I would learn from the Plumbing Master. Which is how it worked out, for he gave me a quick lesson in how to roll out the putty and form it into a seal to be applied before tightening the doo-hicky that needed to be tightened under the sink.
Nine dollars. I walked out with a fully-functional replacement drain for nine bucks, and I didn’t have to use even a single plumbing-challenged brain cell to figure out what I needed. Saffron Supply took me in hand as soon as I entered their establishment and I left completely satisfied. It was an experience that you can’t get at a big box store. It was akin to the difference between impersonally ordering a book at Amazon.com and interacting with a real live human being at your local independent book seller. I buy from Amazon more I should, and I buy from Lowe’s more than I should. When places like Saffron Supply are gone, it will be people like me who are responsible. And you, if you’re like me.
The only awkward moment during my visit to Saffron Supply occurred when, in an effort to express my gratitude while the guy was writing up my purchase, I blurted out to him and several co-workers, “I could never get this sort of service at Fred Meyer or Lowe’s. You better never go out of business.” There was no response at all to my comment, just a quick glance or two in my direction. I felt like maybe I was treading on sensitive ground. “Oh God,” I thought with more than a touch of remorse, “what if they are on the verge of going out of business?” Then I was brought back to the present moment. “Would you like a bag?” “Sure, thank you.” My nine dollars worth of parts were put into a paper bag, the top carefully folded over, the handwritten receipt placed inside. It all felt really real. May Saffron Supply survive and prosper, and continue to produce kings of the world.