Entrepreneurs: Killing Them Softly (October 16, 2010)

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A couple of nights ago, I looked out the window of my fifth floor apartment and witnessed a tragedy in progress. It is not the kind of catastrophe that comes with a lot of noise, or drama or any sort of sensual spectacle at all. Instead it was quiet, methodical and efficient. I was watching the death of a dream, the heartbreak of failed entrepreneurship, as the purveyor of a neighborhood women’s clothing store cleaned out her inventory, decor and signage.

This particular store addressed a specific need in feminine American fashion: the ability to fit almost any size woman, from 1-22. While the small store may not always have your particular number in stock, the owner, a friendly middle-aged African American woman, would have it shipped for arrival within three business days at no extra charge.

Therein lies some additional causes for the deep sense of loss to the small business community created by this outlet’s foreclosure. For a variety of sociopolitical reasons, there are already not enough minority female job and capital creators out there. It is disheartening to see another one go.

And this comes at a time when the street I live on is witnessing a boom of sorts. I have been a resident for six months but within a few blocks radius during that same period, a number of bars, restaurants and entertainment venues have sprung. But maybe that’s the problem. As my community slowly gentrifies, these burgeoning businesses scream “More!” More lights, more glass, more steel, more white collar transplants looking for the coolest nightspot. This understated, individual shop which purposely targeted clients of diverse economic backgrounds, may be the first casualty of many to come.

For some reason, this affects me in a far more terrified and profoundly sad way then the loss of my own job earlier this week. Because I feel a definite connection with this closure. It’s just not a good climate for the hard working and unassuming to get ahead, is it? I can and will get another job, even if it takes awhile and a boatload of rejection. But small business owners, in many cases, pour everything into their work: their money, their time, their energy and their faith. While the practical concerns of resolving loose ends and securing a new income must necessarily take the foreground, the sickness at heart that I felt while watching the owner cover her once vibrant windows with old newsprint must pale in comparison to the emotional roller coaster this woman is riding.

I don’t buy into the widely pushed tenet that President Obama is “hostile” to business. I feel like vomiting every time I hear a Fortune 500 company, with its record 2010 profits while much of the nation languishes in unemployed dire straits, say otherwise. However, by and large, I readily agree with bi-partisan opinions that not nearly enough has been done for the small business community. Credit can be nearly impossible to come by. The costs of health care make the hiring of full-time workers economically risky and burdensome. A sputtering economy limits the disposable income people have for goods and services. In short, small business is getting squeezed from all sides. What is the answer?

I am not an economist and I am sure the solutions are multi-layered and complex, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have to try. For too long I have carried the sunken stone feeling in my gut that America is losing – and losing big – in important areas: infrastructure improvement, job creation, clean energy, immigration and education among many others. However, too many of us, so disillusioned, so busy trying to survive, don’t have the luxury of pointing to an act of American Dream destruction, to take the time to say, “Hey! See that? That’s wrong. We need to do something”

I may be but a modestly read blogger, but that’s the least I can do for this woman, who is now trying to sort out what comes next in a cold market. I saw it. I saw you. It was wrong. Your business was important: to you, the neighborhood and to me.

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