Tom's Take: Consider Visiting a Small Business
Illustration by David Norby © Style Media Group
My favorite coffee place closed down recently. I’d visit Pipeline (which used to be It’s a Grind) two, sometimes three times a week after waking in my usual stupor from the daily nap I take—because getting up at 3:30 a.m. every morning kinda sucks.
But one day this spring, there was a small, handwritten sign on the door saying they were no longer in business. The note was brief, written on a small scrap of paper. There was no explanation, just an apology for the inconvenience and “a sincere thank you” to regular customers for the years of patronage.
Just like that. Done. I peered inside. The pastry case was empty. Shelves behind the counter were mostly empty, too. Tables and chairs were still there, though, and a newspaper still lay folded on the arm of an old couch by the window.
I knew the owner, Tim, by name but not much more. Over the years we’d made a lot of small talk. He was nice but always busy. He was there a lot. He used to have live music on the patio out front on weekend nights—local artists. Most were young, maybe their first time in a band. They usually weren’t all that bad. Or good. But Tim was giving them a chance to perform, and if nobody in the coffee house came outside to listen, they had a captive audience whenever the westbound light on Foothill at Pleasant Grove turned red.
Lots of young people worked there over the years. Some were outgoing and friendly. Some were shy but polite. Some were nice but clueless. A handful of them were just clueless. My favorites were the ones who worked there long enough to remember my drink order. Service was quick, and the iced lattes were good—especially on Fridays, when I’d usually get a triple. The pastry case was stocked daily with muffins, scones and bagels. When my mom was alive, we’d take her there because she loved the lemon bars…LOVED them. Sometimes she’d order two. Hey, when you’re in your 80s, you can do that.
What happened? I’m not sure, but a major coffee chain opened a drive-through-only stand at the other end of the plaza. I would marvel at the number of cars that would queue up in front of that place, when Pipeline was only another 100 yards away. Did they not know? Was actually getting out of the car that much trouble?
What I do know is, owning a business is tough. A Gallup poll shows 50 percent fail over the first five years. Other polls indicate as many as four out of five small businesses fail within 18 months. No matter how you look at it, it’s daunting. If you own your own business, my hat’s off to you. You’ve got more courage than me. What’s more, you’re part of the real engine that drives this country. Forget headline-grabbing multi-national corporations and dot-com start-up zillionaires: The American economy starts with small businesses. The 2010 census says there were over 27 million small businesses in America, and according to the Washington Post, those with 50 employees or less account for a third of all jobs in this country.
I don’t know where Tim is now, but I hope he and those he employed land on their feet. I hope the kids in those bands find somewhere else to play. And I hope if you’re out looking for coffee today—or anything else for that matter—that you consider visiting a small business first. They’ll be happy to see you. And they’ll sincerely appreciate your patronage.
Catch Tom on the Pat and Tom Morning Show on New Country 105.1, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter @kncitom.