Letter From the Editor

Now is the time for small businesses to join together and fight the intrusion of big-box companies into their communities.

Last December, I was standing at a gas station somewhere on the northern edge of Arkansas’ Boston Mountains, looking at precisely the same street scene that I had seen in Kankakee, Illinois, Victoria, Texas, and a score of other little towns scattered throughout America. On one corner was a Best Buy, on another, a Wal-Mart, and the whole scene was seasoned with the same fast food restaurants that I could find a thousand miles away. Had I put photos of these three street scenes next to each other, I find it unlikely that anyone would have guessed that the locations were so spread apart, aside from minor variations visible in the local flora and appearance of the landscape. In each of the towns I encountered the same problem: The old city squares and main streets were often lonely places, and the new vibrant hearts of the cities were located along a highway lined with a veritable who’s who of famous corporate logos. What most astonished me is that, despite this abundance of resources and supplies, only a small number of the people I encountered seemed genuinely happy.

This is not a dream of a future America; in many parts of this country, this is America as it is now. No matter where we go in our country (and, indeed, in some others), most of us will know exactly where to go inside a Wal-Mart to get the product we want. No matter where we travel, we can walk into one of the big chain fast food restaurants and order precisely what we want to eat. At one time in my life I wanted to say that such uniformity had a chance of bringing us together in that it helped to stamp out the regional differences that have troubled our nation for much of its history. As I’ve grown older, however, I’ve come to believe that experiencing significant differences over long distances has helped to make us the great nation that we are today. A Southerner might learn much from different retail practices in New England and vice versa, and small businesses in the populated East might be able to learn how an isolated Nevada establishment remains successful despite having a much smaller population to draw from. Big companies tend to use the same practices everywhere, and the ease of finding these companies causes many of us to cave into accepting them.

Fortunately, times are changing. In the past, small businesses had little chance of fighting the intrusion of such big stores into their communities. Today’s small business owners, on the other hand, have learned that they can use some of the same technology to make their businesses more efficient while retaining their distinct identity. With America’s Best Companies, small businesses are starting to realize that they, too, can have access to the type of discounts only the giant corporations normally receive. In this issue, you’ll read about Greg and Betty Martin of Bradley, Illinois, whose pet store remains prosperous despite competition from giants such as PetSmart, partially due to their point of sale system. You’ll also read about how women are making a name for themselves in the world of small business. Perhaps these changes are enough to bring a modern edge to what small businesses once were for America: centers of innovation, individualism, and familiarity. As they slowly gain their foothold in the country once again, perhaps we will recapture that spirit that once defined Americans, and, in the process, rediscover who we are.

All the Best

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