Supporting the American Dream

white wickerIt begins with a dream. Then you add venture capital probably equating to all the money you have, plus borrowing from a host of other sources. You add heart and soul, and more courage than most people could ever imagine. After that you work grueling hours on a daily basis, and finally you end up with a small business. “Forty percent of consumers say they will seek out small businesses to support their community,” wrote David Chaverns, CEO of the Newspaper Association of America in a recent editorial. In my own heart, I have a special place for aspiring entrepreneurs, because I was once one of them. Like approximately 70 percent of small business owners, my former resale store in Lima, Ohio, was a sole proprietorship. “A sole proprietorship is basically an unincorporated business owned and run by one individual (no partners are involved)…,” according to Caron Beesley in a 2013 Small Business Association blog post.

“Someday, I’m going to have a store when I grow up,” I absentmindedly told my grandmother when I was a little girl.  I didn’t remember this significant statement, until I was a thirty-something single mom working 12 hour days and up to my eyeballs in debt in my own retail establishment. Grandma, who was the store’s employee of the month every month, because she worked for free, reminded me of my childhood vision on a particularly discouraging day. What I do vividly remember is my first experience with another store proprietor. The middle-aged lady was a family friend who owned an antique shop in my hometown. When I was about 11-years-old, the generous owner allowed me to choose a gift from some of the more moderately priced collectibles in her inventory.

For a couple hours, I walked up and down the crowded aisles of the shop contemplating which treasure to select. At first, she and my grandmother seemed amused by my indecision, but then they both grew impatient. Still, everything looked extraordinarily beautiful, because the colorful glass items sparkled in the sunlight of the store’s windows. To their relief, I finally picked a ruby red vase to take home with me. That vase started what eventually became a collection of ruby red glass, but more importantly, I had been bitten by the small business bug. For me, being a shopkeeper became my idea of the American dream. Besides, I had been raised in a family of small business owners.

Shopping Good FridayIn 2010, to raise awareness American Express came up with the idea to create Small Business Saturday, which has become an annual event celebrated on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. “The 28 million small businesses in America account for 54% of all U.S. sales,” reports the Small Business Association website, but they need our support all year long, not just on one day. Although this column isn’t an indictment of big box stores, because sometimes our budgets necessitate shopping based solely on price or availability.

Yet my version of the American dream was the ability to own and operate a vintage/thrift shop, and I was blessed to fulfill that vision. In 1931, James Truslow wrote that his idea of the American dream was “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.” These words are found in his book, “The Epic of America.” The definition is “The belief that anyone, regardless of where they were born or what class they were born into, can attain their own version of success…The American dream is achieved through sacrifice, risk-taking and hard work, not by chance.”

At the end of our lives, for most of us there will be opportunities that we will be grateful for, and missed opportunities that we will regret. Although I never became rich owning a resale shop, I will be forever thankful that I was once part of the small business community. My little store started with a leap of faith, and ended almost seven years later with an unceremonious “Going out of Business Sale.” Still, the memories of my wonderful customers, and the countless lessons learned there cause me to never forget the small business owners striving each day to live their own American dream. Whenever financially possible, let’s show these hard-working citizens our support, and keep this dream alive for generations to come.


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