Posted 418 days ago
If you listened to American politicians, you might think the government lavishes support on small business. But that has long been more rhetoric than reality.
Mari cites that the last meaninful federal legislation for independent retailers was the Robinson-Patman Act in the 1930s, which "prohibited growers, manufacturers, and wholesalers from giving discounts to chains for large-quantity purchases." This is in start contrasts to court hearings since the 1960s, where "antitrust cases have tilted in favor of ensuring low prices for consumers rather than perserving competing companies' access to the market."
When I think about what matters most to the people around me, it's often the lowest prices. What can we buy for the lowest price so we can keep our money for the things closest to us. This is not inherently a bad thought; I believe the intention is to keep costs as low as possible to be able to provide the most for your family and closest circle. And that may also be part of what is changing: our relationship to our local community.
His loyal customers - people he has known for decades, people whose kids, careers, and concerns he takes an interest in - delighted my dad by ddropping in, mask on, hair long, some almost unrecognizable, telling him they wouldn't buy anywhere else.
When I was a child, I went to the local sports store, played on teams sponsored by local businesses, and knew all the waiters and cooks and owners at local restaurants. Now, as I have moved away from my town for school and work, I feel entirely disconnected from this community. Sure, I have the farmers' market with the cheese stand I love, the bakery down the street which I get bread from, and a couple breweries that I frequent. But the feeling isn't the same. And I wonder if everybody is beginning to feel that way or if it's the movement of youth that causes this.
The younger generations (myself included in them), love to criticize older generations for the faults in our politics, economy, and climate. But when we really look at our habits - consumption, investment, loyalty - what is it to? Is it to this ephemeral new wave of big businesses that look shiny and fancy to capture our attention, or is it to building strong communities. Sure we can criticize older generations for their racism, sexism, etc., but we should think hard about when we accuse them of our troubles and instead look to how we are building the societies that are in direct contact with us, not necessarily the ones we imagine on a screen.
Posted 418 days ago
I appreciated this article for how Mari fit her dad's small business into the narrative of a changing America. Her story felt sincere and nostalgic in the way we look back upon the things that positively influenced us over the course of ours lives. But what I found controversial, and intentionally so I believe, is both the critique and the acceptance of an ever-changing technological landscape.
Before the internet, high-fidelity audio-video companies coordinated with countless independent dealers. After the internet, which multiplied the possible paths to consumers, not so much.
Through this, I certainly felt a hostility towards the internet, as though it caused the fall of her father's business. On one hand, I was taken aback that she could criticize technology for causing the failure of a technology store. But on the other hand, I realized she was critiquing a very-specific branch of technology that led to the business's downfall. To contrast the feeling, she says the following:
The internet wasn't all bad for my dad. It enabled him to get outdated parts on eBay and to search audiophile forums for tips on tricky repairs. With a few clicks, he could also see the big-box stores' prices and endeavor to beat them.
"All bad" certainly has a negative connotation, and rightfully so. We should not just assume that the internet is great for the ease of things that are delivered to our fingertips. It's important to hear the stories of real people, whose lives were changed completely, by the emergence of this technology. Even though Harmony Audio Visual made it past the emergence of big box stores like Best Buy (her father "could still take home close to $100,000 a year in the early 2000s), the internet was the one to put it down, even though "Harmony's pegging most prices at a dollar less than what Amazon's asking," making Mari believe that "Amazon's real triumph is a monopoly not on pricing but on our imagination."
Postindustrial America is a service economy; there are the rich and those who serve them.
The business had to change to keep up with the changes in America. Even though it lived through all the changes in the past, it couldn't survive everything. The mix of the internet and the current pandemic pushed the store to its absolute limits. We should take this story, and the many, many other ones like it and think about how we want to structure our economy for the benefit of all.
More than 400,000 small businesses have closed since the start of the pandemic and many thousands more are at risk...How many of these businesses will eventually be replaced, and what will be lost if they aren't? It's easy to compare prices. It's harder to put a value on the cranky independence of small-business owners, or their collective importance to community spirit and even the American idea.