Recently, two locally owned restaurants announced they were closing their doors, and that prompted all sorts of Facebook discussion threads about why they had not succeeded. I found myself more and more frustrated as I read the comments, an occasionally I chimed in with abrupt, impatient remarks that seem to be my trademark when I feel like people just aren’t “getting” it.
There are all sorts of factors that go into the demise of a small business. As someone who spent my early childhood hanging out in the back of my parents’ fledgling fried chicken and catfish restaurant The Red Rooster (yes, I’m aware of the irony that I haven’t intentionally eaten meat in over a decade and am currently flirting with veganism for the gazillionth time), I am aware of how hard it is to break even with a new business, especially a restaurant, regardless of how busy the place might appear.
But there’s one factor I’m currently in a tizzy about: the customers. Because, when it comes down to it, customers can make or break a new business, especially a local small business. And, the thing is, customers simply didn’t show up. Not enough to sustain these restaurants. I know…because I was there…and there’s only so much food I can eat…
Oh, they were there today in the final hours for the latest victim of my town’s poor business development planning. A line wrapped around the building, and every table was occupied. But customers are fickle pickles. Where were they a month ago?
Some were at home cooking dinner to save money due to a protracted feeling of being squeezed financially by bleak economic conditions. But plenty of others were out dining at the many mediocre chain restaurants that dot the interstate highway that cuts through town. A deep-fried Awesome Blossom in every mid-sized city, guaranteed to be greasily predictable, if not particularly appetizing.
And so here we are, on the eve of “the biggest shopping day of the year,” with customers plotting strategies for how to get the best bargains from the biggest box stores, supporting the retail equivalents of the chain restaurants that seem to keep on going…and going…while high-quality, affordable local small businesses are floundering. It’s a corporate world, and we’re ready and willing to contribute to the downfall of the mom-and-pop store.
We do this. Every day, every year. We say that we want small businesses to succeed, but we have a lousy way of showing it. We lament the decline in quality of restaurant meals, but we keep going back for seconds. We complain about how commercialized the holidays have become, but we continue to buy into the shopping frenzy, encouraging the advertising and the sales and the creeping consumerism that has led to more and more stores opening on Thanksgiving.
I’ve heard lots of friends say that they’re not going to participate in the retail chaos of Black Friday, but statistically, at least some of them will. And for what? A bunch of useless junk that will be forgotten in six months.
Plenty has been said about wasteful consumerism and our disposable culture. But I’d like to leave you with this thought: If you really, truly believe in small businesses…the way that politicians seem to think that you do…the way you say that you do when you answer survey questions…please stop feeding into the chain store madness.
It’s actually pretty easy. Just stop. Don’t shop.
Take the day off, avoid the insanity, and support local stores for this weekend’s Small Business Saturday. You’ll save money by being more conscientious about your purchases, and even if individual items cost more than what you’d spend at Walmart, you’ll save money by thinking before you buy. Plus, you’ll be putting money back into your local community, perhaps providing the income for a student to go to college or a family to enjoy a dinner at a, ahem, local restaurant.
Your kids will survive without the latest video game, and you’ll be just fine without the Rudolph sweater. If you do have kids, think about the message you’re sending if you go out on Friday (or worse, on Thanksgiving). With every shopping bag that you bring home, you’re teaching your kids that material possessions are important and that quality family time isn’t. And if you don’t have kids, well, get outside and enjoy the day…without the burden of more stuff.