To the point week of 7-29-10

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THERE’S AN ENDANGERED SPECIES moving around Switzerland County and small towns around the area, state, and nation. Once easily found in all corners of our nation, this breed is becoming increasingly rare and difficult to find.

It’s slowly dying off, and we’re the ones who are killing it.

No, it’s not some breed of bison or a variety of insect. It’s not neglected animals or fallen timber.

It’s the local businessperson.

And local “mom and pop” stores are quickly vanishing from our landscape.

This week I had the honor of interviewing Mike Danner for a story that you will find on the front page of today’s edition. He’s leaving a store that his family has been a part of for more than 150 years, spanning four generations if you count Mike’s daughter who works in the store.

Mike is leaving his business in good hands, as Devin and Chastity Scudder take over officially on August 1st; but it didn’t take long into our time together that I realized that this was more than a place for Mike Danner to earn a paycheck.

We sat in the furniture section of the store and he talked glowingly about how excited he was that Devin and Chastity were taking over the business, and how it needs “young people” in it who want to take care of it.

As he talked, it was apparent that those old walls and rows of shelves and products were almost a living, breathing thing for Mike. He views it all as more than stock, he sees each item as a way to help the people of this community.

It’s an emotional thing to walk away from a business that your grandfather was a part of; and your father; and you. Estwing Corporation gives “golden hammers” to people who have been in the hardware business for more than 50 years.

There are three of them hanging in Danner’s Hardware.

It’s not just a business, it’s a life.

A couple of years ago I was also honored to interview Larry Tolbert as he retired from his gas station on the west end of town. I remember how he looked out the window from his desk and towards the pumps. I could imagine all of the customers that had pulled up to those gas pumps over the years, knowing that Larry would be able to help them if they had a problem.

I remember the look in his eye when he surveyed his life’s work.

I saw the emotion in both men as they turned to face the next challenge.

As people who live in small towns, we all complain at times that “there’s no place to buy anything” in whatever community we happen to live in. The population in general looks at empty storefronts and they talk about when Main Street was truly the main street, and how family-owned businesses used to line both sides of the street and around the corners.

Urban planners talk about the “death” of Main Street; and groups are formed and organizations are created to try and “save” downtown business.

Not just here, but everywhere.

Then, we all get in our cars and drive to bigger cities to “superstores” and spend our money.

If we’re all honest with ourselves, we all want small business, we just don’t want to spend our money there.

We can drive to a superstore and find everything we need in one place, under one roof. It’s convenient and – we believe – cheaper.

But at what cost?

As we all gravitate to big ticket stores, we leave behind the small businesses that are the backbone of our community. Many times it’s because of a perception that we have, rather than reality.

My wife and I were shopping for crown molding for a couple of rooms in our home, and we went to our local lumber yard for a price. After that, we headed to the city to one of those large mega-lumber stores to check that out.

Guess what? The molding was cheaper right here in Vevay.

Many times we assume that “small” means “expensive”, but the local businesses right here in our county work hard to give customers fair prices and – more importantly – good service.

We need to continue to find ways to support our local businesses with our money. The Scudders are excited about what awaits them as members of the Switzerland County business community, and our citizens need to support them, as well as all of the others.

John Keeton once said that a dollar spent locally turns over seven times in that community. That means that you spend it; and it pays someone’s salary; who then goes and spends it; which pays someone’s salary; who goes and spends it: and the cycle goes on.

What breaks the cycle is when we jump in our cars and head across the river or down the river and out of our communities.

True, there are things that you may not be able to buy in your community; but for every item you can’t find, there are dozens that you can.

Need a new mattress? Pat Collier is just down the street; and I’m betting that he’s just as competitive as those bigger stores in the city.

Tires for your car? I’m having a new set put on today here in town, and they were about $120 cheaper than anyplace else I found in the city while shopping online.

The list goes on, but the point here is that if we are going to talk about wanting local business in our communities, then we need to literally “put our money where our mouths are”.

Small business is the cornerstone of any community; let’s make sure that it’s here to stay.

And thrive.