Small Town Business

Slice of Life 2020 – Day 23

Photo by Tim Mossholder on

I was born in a small town

And I live in a small town

John Cougar Mellencamp

Today the Governor’s ordered the closing of all non-essential businesses starting tomorrow, and urging people to stay at home to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

I grew up the youngest child in a small-town family. I remember our Main Street was lined with vibrant businesses, including the one my parents owned. On the east end was the Dairy Bar, where I fell in love with Blue Moon ice cream. On the opposite end, there was a historic hotel overlooking Lake Michigan and our beautiful city park. In between, were all the small businesses owned and operated by other local families, much like my own. There was a department store with wooden, creaky floors and an elevator. The street hustled and bustled with a few clothing stores, a drug store, Woolworth’s Five & Dime, a shoe store, J.C. Penney, a hardware store, jeweler, pizzeria, two movie theaters, and a couple of banks.

Today, I live in a different small town with thriving downtown businesses. My favorite bakery, coffee shop, and pizza place are located downtown, and I shop locally whenever possible. Our Main Street is lined with beautiful brick storefronts and canvas awnings. Every time I walk up the sidewalk or drive down the street, I’m reminded of my childhood days.

My job after school as a kid was to run down to our store and crank up the heavy, green, canvas awning by hand. I cherished that job! I felt proud and important shouldering the responsibility of helping my dad close up shop at the end of a long day. When I was finally old enough, my dad let me help wrap packages for customers during the Christmas rush. I still love to wrap gifts because of that job. My first real paycheck worth $14 was handed to me by my dad.

There’s a gift shop in my current downtown that pays special attention to the way they wrap purchases. I get a lump in my throat when I watch them perform a simple act of gratitude for shopping at their store. Each purchase is carefully wrapped in tissue and then fastened with a sticker. After that, it’s placed into a simple burlap bag and tied up with twine. Twine. There was a store from my childhood where my mom hauled us whenever it was time for new bluejeans. I didn’t get the new ones being the youngest, but I still loved going along to watch as the clerk wrapped the folded jeans in brown paper and then pulled twine from the ceiling to tie up the package. It seemed like magic.

I’ve been thinking about all the small business owners a lot lately, especially after today’s announcement by the Governor. Our family business didn’t survive the recession of the early ‘80s. Will today’s small business owners survive COVID-19?

Published by Patty Nault

Retired elementary teacher with a passion for reading, writing, and living a life full of curiosity. "Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder." -E.B. White

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