Something About Nothing by Julie Seedorf published the week of February 6, 2017 in The Albert Lea Tribune and the Courier Sentinel
Memories light the corner of my mind. Misty water-colored memories of the way we were. Those lyrics from the song “The Way We Were,” sung by Barbara Streisand, brings to mind all those favorite places of mine that have closed over the years but hold precious memories. I remember eating at the Canton Cafe in Albert Lea and loving their pork tenderloin dinner along with a bowl of oxtail soup. What about collecting Santa Bears from Macy’s or Hanthorn’s Store, which we called the dime store, here in my hometown? I have precious memories of my dad’s successful hometown shoe store and the whirl-a-whips at Hanson Drug Store. Time moves on and businesses change. Some go away just because of time and change, and some go away because we are more mobile, more prone to buy on the internet than to be loyal to brick and mortar stores and our hometown businesses.
My community no longer has a clothing store or a shoe store. We are down to one drugstore. Our department store closed and a chain store replaced it on the outskirts of town. Kiester lost its grocery store and the city decided to revive it, but still it struggles. Our loyalty has changed, and we, the hometown consumer, are somewhat responsible for that change.
When a business in a small community closes, we hear various opinions as to why the business could not succeed.
“They were too expensive.”
“They didn’t have enough variety.”
“The service was terrible.”
“The staff isn’t friendly.”
“It doesn’t surprise me. They weren’t open on Saturdays or in the evenings.”
“The business was better when it was owned by the former owner. There’s too many changes. It needs to go back the way it used to be.”
I must admit I have probably said some of those things a time or two about some business or other in my community or other communities I have lived in. If I did, I apologize because I wasn’t being fair. I didn’t look at it from the side of the business owner.
I grew up the child of a small business owner at a time when people stayed in their communities to shop. People appreciated the businesses in their own hometown, and those businesses flourished.
I like to have coffee with friends in restaurants and coffee houses, but I haven’t thought about the cost to a small business owner for me to sit all morning and coffee in their establishment. I may have a cup of coffee and a piece of toast or a donut. The cost for that is probably around $2.50 in a community cafe. If I have 10 friends join me and we stay all morning and are waited upon by the waiter or waitress and have endless coffee flowing, the cost to all of us would be $12.50.
Think about the cost to the establishment. They are paying the service person, a cook and all the utilities, plus the cost of coffee. I don’t think what we paid would begin to cover the costs the business shells out to be there. We could add eggs and toast or a sandwich to the mix, but still we were sitting there swigging down coffee or pop all morning, and yes, it is easy to drink coffee for hours.
Many restaurants have specials. How many $4 burger baskets must you sell to pay the utilities and help and still break even? The same can be said for department stores, grocery stores and other businesses. We all want those bargains, and if stores don’t offer them we chose to find a place they do. As a consumer, I look at what it is going to cost me and don’t look at it with the business owners point of view. What does it cost them to keep the business open?
We have a new business in our community. It costs $5 to have all-you-can-drink coffee and unlimited sweet treats. The coffee is roasted at the business and the unlimited beverages includes lattes’ pour overs, hot chocolate, tea and other specialty drinks, but yet I have heard the rumor that people think it is too expensive to have an endless supply of those items. I guess it isn’t a $1.50 cup of endless coffee. Think about it from the owner’s standpoint. How many customers do you have to have to pay for the cost of the roasted coffee and unlimited baked goods? Will $5 do that?
I am good at complaining and my friends will tell you that. I don’t always shop in my community, but I don’t shop much. I stay hunkered down in my house, and if I do buy groceries out of town it is items I cannot get in town. The same can be said for our hardware store. We use it frequently, but for those items I can’t find there I do need to go out of town. So I do admit defecting from community businesses from time to time.
We had a wonderful department store for years, but a chain store was built in our community and people seemed to prefer that to a store that was established, and had the same variety and items if they would have taken the time to check it out. The store closed.
I am going to make more of an effort to support my local businesses and to be aware of the costs owners shoulder to keep their businesses running. I am going to try and complain less and not listen to unsubstantiated rumors. Rumors can close a business whether they are true or not.
We want businesses to be here when we want what we want, or when we feel the need to indulge ourselves in town. We complain when the businesses are gone because we miss them, even though we visited them on a sporadic basis. We can’t have it both ways. Which way will win out?