Here are a few interesting blogs and online articles published this week that relate to Rural Small Business, ending March 7, 2009:
I’m struck by the theme I see among so many of this week’s news stories. They seem to all be about –
Our economic worries are prompting many of us to take time and think, to explore our personal attitudes and clarify our values. When there’s less money to go around, what do we choose to spend it on? That can only be determined by thinking through answers to some tough questions, like what’s important to you? What are your priorities – for yourself, your family, your business, your community? What are you willing to give up, and what are you determined to preserve and protect?
Some of us are choosing to make changes in our small businesses, while other business owners are choosing to pursue changes in their rural communities so that their new business directions can be pursued. Even large social institutions and governmental agencies are getting in on the process, clarifying their values and communicating what’s important to them.
Small Business Owners
As small business owners try to cope with economic pain, they are forced to make tough choices and achieve a new balance between home and work. If they need to cut staff, they have to increase their own hours. Perhaps some of your customers still want to purchase your services, but can’t afford as much or to buy as often as they used to. But when a small business owner is literally the only game in town, the need to get permission from your community before making a change in your business can be particularly tough, as it apparently is for Jose Ascua and his wife, outside Salt Lake City, Utah:
Ascua opens the town’s only retail outlet, In Solo Town, at 6 a.m. every day and closes around 9 p.m., or whenever the last customer leaves. He has a hot-breakfast and dinner menu, and stocks groceries and dry goods that residents might need to avoid a last-minute drive to Heber City, 15 miles north along a mountainous highway with no services in between.
When Ascua, 55, started falling behind on his bills, he asked the town to grant him a license to sell six-packs of beer, one of the items customers repeatedly requested. But by a unanimous vote last month, Wallsburg council members turned down a beer permit, a decision that Ascua says could put him out of business.
“I don’t know what else I can do,” Ascua said, while unlocking his store to cook chicken fajitas for two diners after the Thursday night town meeting at which his fate was cast. He has no employees, works more than 100 hours each week and he closes only on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.
Small Business Owners and Communities
The choice to sell alcoholic beverages or not is still a controversial one in many rural communities, including my own. Despite loss of almost all manufacturing industries and struggling with a high school dropout rate of more than 40%, some people in Mitchell County, North Carolina like things just the way they are. They’re worried that the tourists who might enjoy a glass of wine – at the hotels and restaurants that might be built if alcohol was legal – might ruin everything for us.
Ninety-eight of North Carolina’s 100 counties allow alcohol, including those that surround Mitchell County, meaning that residents who want to purchase alcohol can literally drive 100 feet into the next county, buy it, and then drive back home. Mitchell County is one of just two dry counties still holding the brown bag.
The issue comes up every year or two, and from the full page ad sponsored by just about every church in town that appeared in this week’s newspaper, it’s going to be another tough vote. The battle between those who vote ‘yes’ and those who vote ‘no,’ is as much about trying to keep tourists away as it is about alcoholism, domestic abuse, and the Bible.
Of course, there are always other solutions to a rural community’s economic worries, sometimes particularly creative ones.
As an example – You can get a bottomless cup of coffee at a topless cafe by stopping by the Grand View Coffee Shop in Vassalboro, Maine, a community of 4500 residents. Seriously. The fifteen newly hired waitstaff (10 women, five men) say they are happy to have a job, since most were laid off in recent months.
Talk about values clarification.
It’s not just rural business owners and communities thinking through their priorities and what’s important to them.
The Catholic Church
For Catholics, it’s Lent, the season of sacrifice and repentance – which somehow seems especially relevant this year given all our financial concerns and cutbacks. It’s back to one very important question: What are you willing to give up? Although he was initially thrilled with social networking and used it himself to send out prayer requests when he traveled, the Pope has changed his mind. He is now asking Catholics to give up social networking sites and social media technology for Lent. Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, iPhones, the works. And he did so making an address on YouTube.
And last but not least –
Even government agencies are rethinking their priorities, and the relationships they are going to have with their customers.
The rural community in Williamsville, Virginia may lose its post office. Apparently, the US Post Office will close post offices and abandon rural towns entirely, if buildings leased to house them can’t be renegotiated. This situation isn’t really new -they were mentioned when the Post Office first announced the possibility of reducing its delivery days back in January.
But driving an hour and half to pick up your mail?
And the Small Business Administration (SBA) has even created a FORUM for the very first time to connect with small business owners across the country. It is believed to be the first governmental sponsored online community built for small business owners.
What’s most important to you? What are you willing to give up during tough economic times? And what aspects of your business are you determined to preserve and protect?