“You never bought that here,” said the guy at the Sears Parts and Repair Center, staring intensely at the lawn mower blade they couldn’t replace. “That looks like it came from a hardware store,” he added, with a snarl that would’ve been perfect if he’d said “Nazi crematorium” instead.

Last week I ran over a suburban rock and ruined my lawn mower blade; ordered and received a replacement from sears.com; installed it; discovered that it’s an inch longer than the previous blade and won’t work; called customer service; waited on the phone for 15 minutes; was told that the part had been appropriate for that mower; was given the phone number of the Parts and Repair Center nearest to my home; found that number had been disconnected; called the main Sears store in the vicinity; was eventually connected to lawn & garden; was told to call the Parts and Repair Center at another number; was told to bring the part in to the center, which is located a mile away from the Sears store in a K-Mart; drove 45 minutes there, where they declined to sell me anything but the blade I already had, and told me that if it didn’t fit something else must be wrong with my Sears Craftsman R mower, which they had never seen. They did refund the price of the wrong blade, but I was stuck for the shipping, and of course I was no closer to being able to mow my lawn than when I first hit that rock.

On days like this I’m happy to be a firearms illiterate. But it did occur to me as I drove away that the ulcer-incubating Sears parts guy had given me a valuable hint. “Hardware store.” What I should have done in the first place was to visit my local hardware store and ask them to help me match the size and type of my broken blade.

Come to think of it, I should’ve bought my lawn mower from them to start with, and not from a dinosaur company with most of the bad qualities of government and few of the good ones.

Meanwhile, Local First Chicago will observe Independents Week July 4-12, including a panel discussion of “the inherent environmental sustainability of localized businesses” at the monthly Green Drinks gathering, 7 PM July 10 at the Jefferson Tap, 325 S. Jefferson.

If you saw my piece on LFC in the Reader last summer (July 7, 2006), you’ll have gathered that I’m not sure how “inherently sustainable” local businesses are. But they don’t have to be. They just have to outdo the competition. How hard could it be?