What's Special About Your Town?

Posted by Jim Tracy on Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Do you remember the fun you had shopping with just $5 or $10 of birthday money when you were a kid? I do. Some of my happiest memories were the Saturdays I spent shopping with my Aunt Connie 30 years ago on the northwest side of Chicago. Five or ten dollars went a long way back then. We always visited the same 15 to 20 businesses. There was a paint shop that sold Estes model rockets and Lionel trains, a discount importer who sold me every gift I ever gave to my parents, a five and dime where I always bought a toy, a hot-dog stand where we could get 2 hot dogs with fries and a soda for just 99 cents, a baseball card shop, a candy store with real penny candy, a butcher, a record store, a jeweler, an optometrist who made my Aunt Connie’s eyeglasses and a dozen other small businesses. We knew every business owner by name and they all knew us. The old neighborhood where Aunt Connie lived epitomized and captured the American Dream.

I recently went to visit my Uncle Ron who now lives in Aunt Connie’s old house and offered to take him to dinner. Everything I could remember about the old neighborhood was gone! The businesses, the owners and even many of the buildings had vanished. The fondest memories of my youth were replaced by fast food chains, a mega-drugstore, “For Rent” signs and empty lots. My uncle told me that a Mega-Mart had recently opened about a mile down the street and it put everybody out of business. The Mega-Mart even had its own optometrist. In this old neighborhood, the American dream had died. Is it still alive in your neighborhood or has Corporate America taken over?

I wouldn’t be surprised if it has. That sort of thing is happening more and more these days. I wrote those words when I started America’s Best Companies and I wish I could say that the tide has turned in favor of those old downtowns we all remember. I wish I could, but I can’t. As the big-boxes move in, small businesses continue to be driven out of existence, leaving pain and urban blight in their wake. These losses have made the news and the talk show circuit and now it seems to many that in the face of the retail juggernauts that are springing up all over, the family business is going the way of the fedora hat, pocket watch and fountain pen. Perhaps the big-box retailers want us all to believe that, to believe that the Mega-Mart is as inevitable as death and taxes, but I have a secret for you: It is a lie.

True, one of these big-boxers ranks as the largest single employer in the world, but small business still, overall, employs more people than the big-boxers and corporate giants combined. Small business is strong, it’s vibrant, it is the seedbed of innovation and it is worth protecting. More than that, it is worth cherishing. There was a time in America when people did business face-to-face, when they knew who they were doing business with and when that business was more about relationships and community than profits. Small business was the heir to this tradition, a tradition that has its origins in the mists of America’s pre-colonial past. These people were living the American Dream even before it was first articulated and small business today keeps that dream alive.

That’s why I started America’s Best Companies. Not to draw a line in the sand against the corporate giants, but to keep the American Dream alive. Most small businesses fail for two reasons. First, they cannot compete with the pricing offered by larger chains. Second, the costs of owning a business have skyrocketed.  Profits are quickly eaten by increases in fuel costs, insurance, rent, advertising, labor, taxes, utilities, etc.

The goals of America’s Best Companies are simple. We want to help every small business owner in America to stay in business, grow their business and, most importantly, make money in their business. We also want to encourage the dreams of new entrepreneurs so that future generations can keep the American Dream alive as well. With our partners and programs, we are doing just that, but we don’t stop there. You see, there is another side to that personal relationship, that sense of community that bound neighbors together in ways beyond commerce. They helped each other, through good times and bad and in matters great and small. We feel that this is as important a thing to continue and cherish as the idea of the independent small business.

We at America’s Best Companies are, therefore, committed to contributing to a variety of charitable projects. Benjamin Franklin once said that an investment in knowledge pays the best interest. We are making that investment today among those that have had the least chance to make it for themselves, hoping that they will, indeed, enjoy the returns on that investment and make something out of them. I am talking about “The Peace Corner” (www.thepeacecorner.org). It is a youth center/job training center in one of Chicago’s poorest and most neglected neighborhoods. The American Dream died there a long time ago but with hard work and education, it can be reborn in those who come to learn.

I don’t want to feel as if I am speaking from the Mount. I cherish your comments and questions and look forward to opening a dialog with you. Feel free to place your comments, or the stories you have of your own downtown, using the form below; or contact me, Jim Tracy, at jimt@gowithabc.com.

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Jim Tracy

Tags: jim tracy, peace corner, american dream

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Reader Comments

Tuesday, April 15, 2008 at 3:09 PM
Lurch-says-hello says:

See here's what happened at least IMO, look at Wal-Mart this company while run by the father was larger but not a mega mart and he never intended for it to be so large. When he passed away his kids took over the business and expanded it to be the market behemoth it is today. Why use the local business when you can go get it cheaper and have the convenance of finding so many things in one place? I personally don't use Wal-Mart but would if I had a family to care for and had to get diapers and toys and things for my house.

I can see were your coming from with the personal feel of a local business owner I love that feeling but sometimes you have to pick whats best for you and your wallet. If you can pull this off Jim and make your dream come true and help the little guys compete I'm behind you 100% nothing would be better for this countries economy.

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