Mom and Pop. The backbone of American business. Or used to be.
They are the official symbol of our nation’s best. The hardest workers. The folks who built our towns and cities. How wonderful it is to do business with our neighbors and friends rather than faceless corporate franchises. (Careful. Our friends and neighbors work for those franchises. Mom and pop shops don’t offer a lot of job opportunities.)
Every day, it gets harder to find a mom and pop business. You can blame it all on corporate greed — pushing out small businesses. Nice to have someone to blame. Pity it’s not true. Or not quite as true as we would like. Blaming heartless corporations is a simple, feel-good fix, even if it doesn’t make much sense.
We love simple answers and if we can’t find one, we make one up. The world keeps changing. So does what people want for themselves and their kids. Labor intensive small retail businesses were — for many years — the bulwark of America’s Main Street. But they aren’t appealing to today’s computer-savvy kids. The kids in this generation are more likely to want a shot at a seat in the boardroom of one of those faceless corporations. They have redefined The American Dream.
Who does want to run those little businesses? Immigrants. The people we seem determined to keep out or get rid of. They don’t see long hours of hard work as punishment. They see it as opportunity. It’s American kids who see mom and pop’s business as a dead-end.
It’s a matter of how you look at it. Most of our small general stores, if they haven’t already been knocked down to make way for a CVS or Stop & Shop, are being run by recent arrivals from India, Pakistan and Asia. They work long hours, put they hearts into it and do well. They go out of their way to build relationships with their customers. And they succeed. Immigrants have always been the true bulwark of the “American dream” because they came here full of dreams.
The original Mom and Pop? They got old. Their kids never wanted to work at the family deli, restaurant or ice cream shop, so as soon as a better offer came along, they took it. Moreover, Mom and Pop didn’t send the kids to college so they could slave their lives away like they had, so they’re onboard. That was always the plan.
One by one, family run businesses are closing. Young Americans don’t want to work so many hours for such small returns. The older generation agrees. You and me may want to support them, but they are no longer looking for our support. They want to retire. If they can’t find a buyer for the business, they will sell the land to the highest bidder.
Is it unreasonable to profit from long years of sweat and labor? Everyone knows small retail businesses — unless they find a niche market that doesn’t put them in head-to-head competition with corporate franchises — barely survive, even with community support.
I’d gladly support local small businesses, but who? One by one, our restaurants, delis, gift shops, independent groceries, book stores are going away. There is only one independent bookstore in the Valley now. There never were many, but now, just one.
Independent drug stores? Gone. Small clothing shops? None. We have a few delis, restaurants, hair dressers and fingernail shops. Services do okay, but not retail shops. Restaurants, especially if they serve alcohol do okay. You can always find a couple of tattoo parlors. A lumber yard with two branches and a hardware store. Everyone else sold, closed and moved away.
We are grateful to have a Walmart. Without it we’d have no place to shop for anything without driving 25 miles to the mall where we would merely be buying from different corporations. We need someplace to buy dish towels, paper goods and bathmats. The place to go if the microwave suddenly dies or I break another coffee carafe. Walmart did not displace local businesses. We never had many and now, even fewer. Maybe a hundred years ago, but not in the last 50.
Good bye, Mom. Good bye, Pop. We miss you, but I understand. You worked hard. You want some time off now and an easier life for your kids. Welcome newcomers. Prejudice and politics be damned. I’m glad to have you in my town.