I have always been a fan of small businesses. When I grew up we called many of the shops we went into by the owner’s name. There was Vinny’s Pizza, Mike’s Deli, Artie’s Candy Store and Larry’s Butcher to name a few. When we walked in some of them knew our names too. It was a nice touch to shopping that let us keep in tune with our humanity. I am not saying all was perfect, but we had more of an idea where our money was going. If for some reason you didn’t like Larry you walked three blocks and went to Tony the butcher. If Vinny’s pizza wasn’t your favorite you hopped on your bicycle down to Peppino’s. When is the last time you walked out of Starbucks because you didn’t agree with some of their policies? Is there even a choice to go to another coffee shop?
Besides many of our choices being taken away we have been dumbed down to get the service we now call personalised, but it is far from that. I was in a department store many years ago and there was a sign behind the cashiers till that stated, “If you pay with a credit or debit card and I don’t address you by name, please report me to the manager.” How’s that for genuine, caring customer service?
Twenty years ago when I lived in Australia I knew a girl who was timed at the cashier in McDonald’s. Today it is the selling point of service in that same establishment and others like it; striving for service in under a minute. Push the customers through quickly, fast food, fast service, fast tracked to somewhere else. The management of the world calls this efficiency, I call it de-humanising. So even in the midst of the accepted, modern, fast-paced life style, if you actually wanted a chat with the young person serving you there would be the stop-watch ticking and his or her efficiency rating at the end of the day would suffer. Or even worse than that, if the service was slower and more personal than we are now used to we might get edgy or complain.
I know first hand that running your own small business is hard work. I worked for Larry the butcher when I was 13, and over the years have managed and owned bicycle shops. The hard work paid off, and personal service came natural. There was a certain pride in working for the local populace and making real connections with your customers. Most of my working life has been in and around bicycle shops. I have seen the world of cycling turn more corporate by the year watching that little bit of the human touch slip away with every inch of the corporate nudge to pay more attention to the bottom line. The bottom line for me in business is human, not financial. As we accept the corporatism of our neighborhoods, towns and cities, we watch the humanness slip away from those same places. The checkout person in the big superstores may call us by our first name if we use our credit card, but will he or she have the time to chat with us or will the timer be ticking to get the money in the till from the pressure in the back office?
Without the corporate breath on the back of our necks looking for more efficiency, faster service, and bigger profits, we are able to relax and give personal service, but that is becoming harder because higher rents are reflecting the seemingly bottomless pockets of the corporations, and becoming out of reach for the sole proprietor. So it all spirals out of control, out of town shopping becomes the norm, and empty shop windows the fate of many a small village or town. The exponential growth needs of large corporations is not natural and is stripping our planet of its resources and us of our interpersonal relationships. It needn’t be this way, we have to see and hold true in our hearts a different vision for the future.
Many neighborhoods still have mom & pop shops trying to stay alive and serve the local community, but competition with the internet and large corporate-owned stores is tough. As we all struggle to stretch the cash we earn as far as we can, the smaller shops seem like less of choice for us to spend our money. We have grown used to corporations running our lives. The weekends spent driving from big discount store to big discount store has us spending more time in our cars and away from our families while the internet has us probably buying much more than we need. If we chiseled away all the excess, enjoyed our local surroundings more, stopped sipping $4.00 coffees in franchised coffee shops and tried to spend at least 15 % of our monthly shopping outgoings in smaller establishments where we know the owner’s name and can even have a chat with them if we wanted, I think our wallets and planet might be saved a bit from constant depletion, and our humanity and neighborhoods might be given a small boost as well.
Sacred Economics. A book that looks at life differently.
There are books, documentaries and more out there showing us all how to live and move into a brighter possible future. I have had the privilege of living, working and spending a large part of my life experiencing many of these alternate lifestyles in action. It takes a leap of faith, but when you land it feels nice to know there is more than one story out there. We do truly hold the cards to the future of our children, our towns, our villages, and our planet. Do not let the current system trick us into thinking that, ‘They’ – whoever they are – have all the answers. It is blatantly obvious, ‘They’ don’t. Here is a closing quote from part one of the above-mentioned book.
……..We are afraid, but when we do it for real, the world meets our needs and more. We then find that the story of Separation, embodied in the money we have known, is not true and never was. Yet the last ten millennia were not in vain. Sometimes it is necessary to live a lie to its fullest before we are ready to take the next step to the truth. The lie of separation in the age of usury is now complete. We have explored its fullness, its farthest extremes, and seen all it has wrought, the deserts and the prisons, the concentration camps and the wars, the wastage of the good, the true, and the beautiful. Now, the capacities we have developed through this long journey of ascent will serve us well in the imminent Age of Reunion.
If you have a spare two hours or so to watch an excellent Canadian documentary that was released in 2003 but still holds true today, explaining much better than my rambling can, the power of the corporation in our lives, then click on the link above and see what it has to say about where we are and where we may be heading.
Remember to always enjoy the journey.