In Praise of the Small Businessman

vintage illustration small businessman 1950s

Locally owned business seem a thing of the past. Main streets were once bustling with locally owned stores . Today all across America both main street and malls are nothing more than the giant corporate big box stores.

We are watching the death of small business in America.

As people trample over one another to get deals in giant corporate big box stores on Black Friday they are also trampling over small businesses.

It’s no small thing.

We may get bargains but at what price?

Shopping the American Dream

Mom and Pop stores once drove our economy. Once a big part of the American Dream was independence, including coming up with an idea and starting your own business.

Now, Mom and Pop  are destined to live in the shadows casts by the big box stores.

In an attempt to support small  locally owned business, Small Business Saturday was created-  a forlorn holiday anchored between the big  behemoths of Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

When shopping for the American Dream, a small business is often no longer on the list.

vintage illustration and ad small Businessman

Vintage ad run by John Hancock Life Insurance during the cold war climate in 1951, was a veritable ode to the backbone of capitalism-the small businessman.

Long before the notion of a Wal-Mart, Home Depot, or  Best Buy, a poignant ad run by John Hancock Life Insurance in 1951 was a veritable ode to the backbone of capitalism-the small businessman.

Now the success of small business seems as quaint as this vintage ad. The copy reads:

“There’s a man in this country who spends his days doing exactly what he wants to do.”

“He works hard and he worries plenty, but laughs a lot too and he sleeps well. He’s seen men who take it easier and men who strike it richer. But he wouldn’t change places with any of them…and you wouldn’t want him to.”

“In the old days you’d find this man swinging a hammer in a blacksmith shop or ankle-deep in hickory shavings, building wagons for the pioneers. You’d find him baking bread in a wood fired oven, sewing a jib for a clipper ship or making a clock that would run forever.”

“And over his doorway you’d find a sign that said I. Jones, Prop.”

“The country is bigger now and its business is busier, but we still can’t do without I. Jones Prop.”

“He’s the man behind the counter in a roadside diner, selling coffee and hamburgers to the drivers of the night rolling trucks.”

“He’s the scholarly old fellow bent over a lathe in a little machine shop, turning out parts of such honest quality that a big factory will buy them rather than make its own.”

“He’s the owner of the corner candy store, who sees to it that you will always have a pack of cigarettes, a newspaper, a rubber band, a box kite., a doll carriage, and a quart of ice cream for dessert.”

“He’s the moving man, the gas station man, the man who fixes the roof, the man who adjusts the television set. He’s the man who will cash your check when you run short, or forget to send his bill if you’ve been sick.”

“He’s the man who did business with your father and the man who will be doing business with your son.”

“The textbooks have a dry name for I Jones, Prop. They call him The Small Businessman. You’ll look a long time before you find a bigger man anywhere. Bigger in self-respect. Bigger in usefulness to his neighbors.”

“Bigger in influence on a national way of life that lets any man be his own master.”

Support your local business in your hometown.


© Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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  1. Growing up in the 1950s, I remember there were mom and pop grocery stores in easy walking distance of all neighborhoods in my town. Now, none survive.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow, Sally you are so right i am a small business person who has enjoyed working my biz from home for 22 years and I believe there is no better time for entrepreneurs. Truly feel such sadness that small mom & pop businesses have not survived.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s especially sad that the definition of “small business” has changed so much; to me, a small business is the kind you wrote about here; to congress, a company with 500 employees may be a “small business.” As Steve Cooper put it at : “The problems and issues a 425-employee business faces and an independent coffee shop owner has are likely much different.” To people my age, “The Chamber of Commerce” evokes memories of a group of local merchants trying to improve Main Street businesses; but that is not what “Chamber of Commerce” means to the candidates looking for handouts today.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You bring up excellent points. It is somewhat dismaying that “small business” is a company with 500 employees. Guess Mom and Pop had lots of children! It is heartbreaking going from town to town and seeing all the independent shops now shuttered.


  4. This is a good read. I love the small coffee shops and independent bookstores in my town. And yes it is sad when so many mom and pop shops seem to be closing so quickly. While the dreaded big box stores can be awful in some ways they do bring some benefits, one of which is allowing poor people access to goods that up until recently would be unimaginable. I think we are in a transition process now of moving away from the traditional Main Street type small businesses to more tech and service oriented ones. Who knows how it will all shake out but it sure will be interesting!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. sdaven5191

    When my family and I moved to this relatively small community in late 1990, there were many small businesses making it day to day here. Even an old fashioned hardware store that had been here for decades, the likes of which I hadn’t seen since I was a child. Two good sized lumber yards that were involved in a healthy competition between the two of them, but not with any chain outfit with no local ties or loyalties. Three small grocers and two medium sized chain stores. And many others you would have expected to find back in the ’50’s and ’60’s. It was a nice place, with a lot of families who had been part of the community for generations, including many family farm operations.
    Since then, we have been invaded by the usual chains and big box stores, in an effort to “improve” the shopping choices of the community. But, at the expense of about 90% of the family businesses here. So many have been driven out of business by the larger competitors, sold out, closed up and gone. Leaving behind many good memories and empty buildings. There have been several efforts to improve and rejuvenate the small downtown area, but there are many fewer businesses willing to take the plunge and try to make a go of it, and unfortunately, those who have tried haven’t lasted long because people simply have no loyalty to their local small businesses any longer, and vote with their pocketbooks. My husband and I have always tried to do what we can to support local businesses, but the two of us can’t do it alone. More than once we have been confronted with a dark, locked building, or even a completely empty storefront when we go back to visit one we have been supporting with our dollars.
    There is fortunately a local jewelry store that is in its third generation of family ownership, and who deals exclusively in quality merchandise and have goldsmith and repair people on staff in house. I deal exclusively with them, and have brought in many of my family, friends, and coworkers, some of whom are doing the same. I am glad I don’t have to deal with the chain stores, because the kinds of service and merchandise I seek doesn’t exist with them. They appreciate my business, and go to lengths to provide me with top notch service because of it.
    It’s such an incredible shame that our economy has been broken so badly that we cannot make the choice to support local businesses over the big box chain stores because we must count every single penny we spend on everything we need which demands that we must shop for price alone. By making a few sacrifices though, we have gotten ourselves to the point where at least our grocery shopping can be done without setting foot inside the Walmart that looms so heavily on the nation’s conscience and acres of property on the edge of town, next to another big box housewares/building supplies store. By shopping carefully, and not straying off a carefully prepared and limited list, we can afford not to shop there, but shop in two other stores for our groceries, and some limited housewares.
    I have been disabled for over two years, and on Disability for almost that long. My husband still works full time, and brings home a modest income, which has been steadily shrinking both in size and in buying power. We make significantly less than just a few years ago, and definitely less than ten years ago. Our two kids are grown and gone, and have been for some time. We have a house, and a couple of older vehicles, long ago paid for. That’s it. No credit cards, no recreational vehicles or vacation homes, or even a place to go for vacations, which we can no longer afford. We do our best to keep going, and to be supportive citizens of the community in which we live, but it seems like no matter how hard we try, somebody else is doing their level best to make it impossible for us to continue. How do you fight that? It seems like even the ballot box isn’t the same as it used to be. If you can even convince people to put the same effort into getting to the voting booth as they put into fighting their way through the lines and crowds on Black Friday. And the economic climate is so much more important over the long run than it is for just one day’s worth of shopping. Seems everyone is focused only on the short term now.


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