The past few years have been chronicled in every post and gazette of note around the world - perhaps more so than any other epoch in modern history - and a recurring theme has been the slow demise of modern retail and dining options in town and country. The struggle is the result of a combination of economic and social forces far beyond the purview of this writer, but the result has been widespread labor issues that all too often force small businesses to shutter. As with many of the ails of modern society, pulling on one thread causes the whole tapestry to unravel. “Small businesses should pay a living wage,” one might say, “and then the labor issues would resolve themselves!”
Well, the small business owner, especially in retail or food and beverage, regularly operates on such slim margins that it can be unfeasible to pay a living wage based on what they charge for their product. The rational reaction may be to raise the price of their goods to reflect the new market reality. This, of course, causes second order effects. “You’re charging me what for this t-shirt?!” you exclaim. “This is extortionate! I’ll buy one from (insert retail punching bag du jour) for 3.99!” It then falls on the small business owner to articulate exactly why their product costs more - perhaps it’s constructed from much higher quality materials, sourced through a supply chain that treats each contributor with dignity and pays a living wage - and to tell that story in a way compelling enough to incentivize you to part with more of your well earned scratch.
The small business owner must do this while flying in the face of the best advertising agencies and marketing departments in the world, competing in an environment where so many of us seek to achieve a certain look on social media, and will often do so at the expense of the quality of the items. It is no small wonder the pandemic, socio-political unrest, and the resultant economic uncertainty has driven so many folks out of business and changed the energy in our favorite cities.
From the ashes, the phoenix rises. While a large number of folks have had to shutter their doors, many an intrepid soul took a step back, retooled, and got back on the horse, buoyed by a belief that they have something of value to offer their communities and securing the audacity to step forward, once again into the breach. It is likely your city has been reshaped by the events of the past couple of years. This column is dedicated to inspiring us all to get back out there, and to those craftspeople - the men and women with passion and talent, the people who make our neighborhoods, and our cities, special.