Best of my Knowledge

Just a couple of months ago, I was spending my evenings at the University of Chicago library, poring over dusty books on early modern economics and science and wondering what direction my life was taking. I had grown accustomed to the university’s little haven of academic debate, and the threatening business world beyond seemed so far away.

I was surrounded by some of the best minds of my generation, to be sure; but the abstract theory I read on paper or heard in lecture halls seemed a far cry from the rough but lively reality just eight miles north in the steel maze of Chicago’s Loop. I would walk home from smug Academia and pass a grimmer world. Small, cozy bookstores, often catering to specialized interests, licked their bruises after the appearance of a new Borders. On the train, I would pass by vacant shops, apparently forced to close after the appearance of a nearby Target. I wanted to do something about it. I was at that age when I wanted to do something worthwhile with my life, and the thought of spending the rest of my days in that speculative world while the world around me called for action was strangely stifling and unfulfilling.

An intriguing series of events then brought me here to the editor’s desk of America’s Best, the magazine of America’s Best Companies. Almost overnight I found myself whisked from my books and cast into the world of business, and I quietly left behind my PhD studies and re-entered the world. I was no longer just the man making his purchase at a store’s counter, but a man striving to protect the business’ very existence. Every time I walked into a business’ door, I found myself looking around and assessing what could be done to make the company run more efficiently. Chicago became more real for me than it had been in the years since I began my Master’s studies. I had changed. And I was happy.

I am surprised that the situation currently affecting small businesses does not seem as serious in places like inner Chicago as it does in areas like rural Texas, where I grew up. There, it is not uncommon to see entire downtown districts without any real businesses, as many have dried up after the appearance of a new Wal-Mart or Target. In some unknown pockets of the state, such as Red Rock, a few miles southeast of Austin, off the highways and down shady oak-lined roads, one can find a real-life general store, virtually unchanged from when they were first built in the closing days of the Old West. The true flavor and culture of the state remains in places like these, and businesses like the general stores of my early youth are the kind of businesses that we seek to help.

In many ways, I myself am starting a small business. There are times when I look at a magazine rack full of business publications and wonder just what my little magazine can do. America’s Best is something new and small amid towering giants—a general store amid skyscrapers—but I think that we have an edge on the competition. We are not just a small business magazine produced by a larger, corporate magazine; our content is written by small business owners, and our parent company is dedicated to giving small businesses the same edge as large corporations in every possible way. America’s Best has the potential to be the voice of a revolution of sorts. Like all small businesses, it has the potential to thrive. Together, we can turn America’s Best Magazine into America’s best magazine.

So turn the page. The doors are open, the ribbon’s cut.

We’re open for business.
Tags: editor, abc, letter

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Reader Comments

Thursday, September 6, 2007 at 2:26 PM
Rachel P. says:
What an artful and moving letter. Really balances creativity with practicality. It’s good to see that the editor of the ABC magazine has such a strong sense of both. I look forward to reading more!
Saturday, August 4, 2007 at 9:01 AM
Dick and Joyce M. says:
Sounds like a "team effort" in the making; America's Best magazine and America's best small businesses. I'll look forward to reading about successful (and not so successful) models competing in the "be everything to all consumers" culture. Happy trails!

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