Column: A thing of the past

By Angela Loiacono

When our parents were young, Mom and Pop stores lined the main street of their small downtown. They would go to these stores once a week, but they wouldn’t just be shopping. They’d go to talk to the owners and the people that worked there. They would go catch up with their friends. Nowadays, people go to Target to pick up just about everything and forget about the meaning of a personal relationship. Large corporations have taken over and forced small businesses and hard-working independent storeowners right out the door.

Many people have become so preoccupied with getting things done fast and with the least amount of distraction, that they have completely given up on the importance of service and what it means to a small businessman. My family has owned an independent pharmacy in the western suburbs of Chicago for over 55 years. First owned by my grandfather and then taken over by my father, the business is not only a means of income, it is a part of the community and an integral portion of many people’s lives. The pharmacy has laid its foundations on service and treating its customers as though they are part of the family. When customers walk through the door they are greeted by name and talked to as a friend.

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This notion, however, is no longer valued by many people. When customers walk into a corporate chain such as Walgreens or Osco, the feeling is a bit different. People have given up service and companionship with their producer for a drive-thru and some wholesale prices. The value of knowing and trusting a pharmacist, for example, is now taken for granted.

Where along the line did the importance and prevalence of small businesses diminish? When did everything begin to change? I find it hard to understand why so many people are saddened by the closing of a long-standing independent business. More often than not, they never entered its doors because they chose to patronize a large corporation instead.

It is disappointing to see the bakery that you used to go to with your mom every Sunday after church close. But many people just don’t care. There is a Costco or Jewel looming around the corner to meet their needs. What these people don’t realize is that it’s not just a business closing. It’s a family shutting down its livelihood because few people put a value on kindness and conversation. Few people care whether or not the cashier at Wal-Mart knows your mother’s name and asks how she is doing. But maybe the only reason they don’t value these things is because they never gave them a chance. And with so many independent Ma and Pa establishments closing their doors, the opportunity is quickly diminishing.

I really believe it’s a shame that people don’t even give these smaller stores a chance anymore. While corporate stores may offer more of a selection and a quicker stop, very little can replace establishing a relationship with someone and actually enjoying patronizing a store because you know the person you’re purchasing from. Many people need to take a step back from their fast-paced lives and go to the local coffee shop, instead of Starbucks, on their way to work in the morning. These small sole proprietorships were started by people who had a dream of owning their own business. They should be given a chance to survive before they’re crushed by the domination of larger chain stores.

Even above the simple big business/small business comparison I’m making here, where is this notion going to lead? People already appear to be giving up on the hard-to-find services of a small business – when are they going to give up on the importance of service altogether? I just hope this trite comparison will not establish itself as an example of what will be valued in the future.