It takes a special breed to start and maintain a “Mom and Pop” business in today’s economy. I’ve always been a corporate worker, with steady hours and a steady paycheck. It’s hard for me to understand what motivates owners of small businesses to want to work longer hours, often for less money, and face constant threat from bigger businesses. I spoke to several of our local small businessmen and asked them why they made the choice to own and operate a small business. I expected to hear clichés like “I wanted to be my own boss.” Instead I heard much loftier motivations. In every conversation “Giving back to my community” was the number one reason. The word “creativity” kept coming up too, not just in the artistic sense that they could make their business into whatever their imaginations could conceive, but also in the deeper sense that they had “created” this business with their own sweat and blood, and it was now an extension of their being. There’s also the “David and Goliath” factor. It’s a distinctly American trait to root for the underdog, and so we root for and admire our Mom and Pops who survive against the economic odds.
Here are a few of my favorite local Mom and Pops that personify the above philosophies, and in particular have succeeded in their battles against “Goliath”.
This newspaper is a great example. When the L.A. Times closed down the CV Sun a year and a half ago, their then laid-off editor Robin Goldsworthy felt that as a local resident herself, she could give the local news the attention it deserved.
With her own money she started this newspaper, at a time when traditional print papers are shrinking, and knowing she’d be competing with the “big boys”. She’d never make money off the venture, but she wanted to do this for her community. The paper’s now well into its second year, and if you’re reading and enjoying this right now, Robin’s achieving her goal.
When my favorite local pharmacy Cal-Med was purchased and closed by Walgreen’s last year, I took my business to La Crescenta Pharmacy on Foothill east of La Crescenta Avenue. The owner K.B. confided to me that he too had received purchase offers from Walgreen’s and rejected them. “I have five families depending on the paychecks I write. I can’t do that to them. I always say I have God standing right next to me watching what I do, so I must do the right thing.” That’s a beautiful business philosophy!
Maureen, owner of Once Upon A Time bookstore in Montrose, is surviving the big bookstore chains and Amazon.com with traditional “books on the shelf”, and Once Upon A Time is now the oldest children’s bookstore in America! To me there is nothing more satisfying than browsing bookstores and finding just the right book that you didn’t know existed before. My family and I recently spent an entire Saturday browsing all the local new and used bookstores, and that outing has been the highlight of this year.
When Blockbuster opened right across the street from my favorite video store La Cañada Video, the doubters said they would close up. Now Blockbuster is gone and they’re still there. Hamlet, the owner, a film-buff himself, built his business on carrying the old Hollywood favorites and obscure foreign films you can’t find elsewhere. He hires local kids that are often film students and I find myself in great conversations with them about films and filmmaking. Hamlet is now competing with Netflix and Redbox, yet I stood in line at La Cañada Video last night to rent an old movie on VHS. Can’t get that from Redbox!
Look, I know I can get it cheaper at the big box store, but that’s not what matters to me. Call it “community patriotism” if you will. It’s more important to me to keep my community healthy than to save a few pennies. If you want to help make CV a better place, then shop local, and support your “Mom and Pop”!