“On a scale from one to ten, how’s business been in the last year?” I asked. I was a membership representative door to business door in San Mateo County for a small business lobby group. As part of the sales pitch I’d ask business owners about their business performance.
Based on the appearance of the business, the lack of employee’s or the silence in the business (no productivity) I would amend the question. “How’s business?” Awful, horrible, never seen anything like this in (pick one) 20, 30, 40 years of business was the frequent answer. More than I care to remember a business owner would tell me they were closing the doors, “retiring” or hoping to go back to work for “the man.”
Small business owners are the forgotten victims of the great recession. It’s easy to forget them. How many of us can relate to the backbone of our economy? How many of us have started or closed a business? How many of us have the inherent qualities (balls) to start a serious business? What’s a serious business? A business where the collateral backing the business is your house, property, cash, personal credit or other assets you’ve accumulated through honest hard work: a business where you haven’t taken a paycheck to keep the doors open. A business where you’ve laid off employees whose families attended the Christmas party months before. That’s serious business.
Two restaurants where I live in Castro Valley recently closed. One closure in particular caught many locals by surprise. JD’s was known for the best breakfast in town and has been family-owned since the seventies. “For lease” and “Available” signs dot the business landscape like tombstones marking the precise location of a deceased dream. On a positive note people have come together to use social media to organize cash mobs but it will take more than feel good to stop this carnage.
Small business owners are the last heroes standing of capitalism. They take more risks, hire more people and contribute more to communities than big business ever will or care to. They are not people as defined by the Supreme Court, but people like you and me.
So the next time rich politicians debate or talk about the economy listen for what they’re doing for the people in the 99% who happen to own a business. Listen hard for the sound of silence.
Norman Weekes is a volunteer in social justice non profits, account executive looking for work and occasional political activist.