Tuesday, May 10, 2016

"You didn't want to see what was right in front of you" | Death of a Small Business

From time to time I come across this piece I wrote about five years ago and feel the need to pass it on, perhaps one more time. Not only was it one of the first things I ever wrote, it was at a time when I'd realized that 1, my brain needed more help than the average person to work correctly and 2, it was possibly the most painful experience in my life. I share it now because of the process gone through, the things learned and that perhaps it will help someone else in a similar situation. (if that sounds cryptic it's because I don't want to give away the whole story until you've read this).

"You left anyway.

You heard me explaining just minutes ago to the other customers that our candies are born here in the USA; often by confectionery families with a tradition of high standards; dedicated to keeping their products USA-made. You saw me hand them some printed material, detailing the more-than-a-century life and journey of classic American favorites, which noted the commitment the family-owned company has offered for generations.

You barely glanced at the vintage wooden candy counters you might have stood at decades ago and bought sweets from as a child. Like our products, those old-time general store cases were assembled with skill - not inferior ingredients – joined together with care, commitment and real wood; lacking any screws, nuts or bolts.

But you decided to go. Your children were restless and demanding; fresh from the movie they had seen during the ride to the shore, they chanted that only the latest and greatest gummy cartoon character candy would do. And you didn’t care to argue; stand up for principles; explain why we need jobs here in our country. You certainly didn’t want to go into detail about why we must support our American companies – so people like your nice neighbor Mr. Frank, who was laid off from his job after 28 years – could remain employed. Because, when Mr. Frank was laid off as the company he worked for outsourced everything to China, he had planned on working a few more years just to keep his health benefits. See, his wife is ill; they will soon be able to get Medicare….but not now. And that “now” - the time between being an employed citizen and an over-65’er - could mean the loss of their home; savings; everything Mr. & Mrs. Frank have been working for their entire lives.

You didn’t want any drama. And it was certainly too “messy” to tell your kids how it’s not right to “demand” things, that the brand-new gummy candy of questionable ingredients might not be safe to eat – but after all, didn’t you just scan the online reports yesterday to be sure their toys were not the ones recalled, the ones that could leak poison into your babies delicate skin? If the toys were a concern to you, then why not the food they are whining for?

You left anyway. I never got a chance to show your children the shoestring licorice that would undoubtedly have been different from what they got in Walmart – because it IS different. Manufactured in an American facility - from a company who allows no raw ingredients from outside of the US - it would have been carefully screened for quality. You would have had no need to search Consumer Reports to see if this was laced with lead. Your young ones would have learned something; about responsibility; about commitment; seen dedication in the handmade walnut wood counters; heard pride in my words about selling something I didn’t have to question.

But you didn’t see any of this; you didn't want to know….and if you don’t, neither will they. And today, I’m sad not just for myself, my business, the death of small independent retail shops, but also for people everywhere – just like Mr. Frank.


Letting go of my beloved small business was sort of like losing an arm....or a foot...or a big, gaping, empty space in my body that had been there for almost two decades. Although the shop didn't close for several more years, I realize now that when this was written, I already knew that the end was coming. Despite the scattered mind that struggled desperately to keep things together, I was able to put these thoughts together in some kind of spurt fueled by sadness. By the way, "Mr. Frank" was a very character representing someone I'd come to know, who was employed in the candy industry here in the US, and who did indeed lose his job and benefits when the next generation took over and outsourced production to China. I can't even count how many similar stories like that I heard during the final five years I was in business.

It may be interesting to some to note that although I couldn't quite collect my thoughts enough to write much until just the last year, when going through times of extreme sadness somehow that would allow the words to come out - not perfectly, but in some form. I guess that's why I'm re-posting some of these things now in sort of a "looking back" phase. Thanks for reading.

 "Life on Delmarva" • #delmarvausa