catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 1, Num 7 :: 2002.12.06 — 2002.12.19


The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker

The death of small businesses and reasons for hope

I park in the downtown South Holland Mobil parking lot and step out into the fresh cold air of November. I can smell it already, the deep-fried, fresh baked, glazed and frosted scent of Mentink's Bakery.

It wasn't always "Mentink's," but as far as I know, the building has always been a bakery. My mom once told me that she and my dad had their first date at the apartment of the couple who used to live above the bakery, but I'm not thinking about that as I hold the door open against the wind and anticipate what I'm going to buy. It's ten o'clock already and I haven't eaten breakfast yet. I'm on my way to volunteer at a little shop down the street and this morning I can't resist treating myself to 60 cents of confection. Inside, the friendly woman with the ready smile is behind the counter and I quickly scan the contents of the glass cases before I order the usual, a cinnamon roll and an apple fritter. She sends me on my way with a little white bag and a friendly wish that I have a good day.

Outside again, I glance across the street to see my great uncle's hardware store. I like to have an excuse to go there and buy something, but mostly his store makes me sad. He made his living in this little old downtown, but now faces the reality that there may be no one to take over in the face of the new home improvement mega-palaces popping up all over the place. People reminisce all the time when I tell them the store is owned by Uncle Clarence, a guy in our church who used to own an old Victorian down the street, a fatherless friend who used to stop by just to hang out, a recent divorcee who had a nearby apartment for a while and could always count on his store to have exactly the product and advice she needed.

Is it just nostalgia that makes me long for the success of small businesses like Uncle Clarence's store? I scan the businesses along the street, De Young's Furniture, Calvary Bookstore, The Seasons Caf, Mentink's Bakery and I think that, in a sense, we are moving away from the way things were meant to be. I don't wish to romanticize the past, but it seems that there was a time when there was more space for individuals to develop their unique passions and actually make a living at it. The guy who was good at repairing shoes could be a business owner instead of working at an impersonal kiosk in a one-size-fits-all shopping center. And his local clients could know him by name, have kids who went to school with the cobbler's kids, have some sort of stake in the success of an individual. I have made up my mind to support local businesses when I can, but how do I redirect a population obsessed with finding the lowest price with the least amount of effort?

I become more optimistic as I open up my shop for the day. International Arts & Gifts has occupied its storefront for 15 years as a non-profit entirely staffed by volunteers. The consistent mission has been to sell fairly traded handcrafts made by disadvantage people around the world and the store has scraped by on a miniscule advertising budget and the generosity of a few faithful shoppers. What is unique about our store, however, as compared to several around the U.S. and Canada with the same mission, is that we serve as an anchor in a changing community.

South Holland, as the name conveys, was founded by Dutch immigrants way back when and now, as the original inhabitants die off and the city of Chicago expands, the population is becoming increasingly African American. In its current state, the village has the potential to be a healthy multicultural community, but fear has led to white flight and many misconceptions. Our store makes me proud because it stands for the hope that those who remain, old and new, can find common ground in a love of diversity and a desire for community.

Because the store stands for such wonderful principles, *cino has partnered with them for Community Shopping Day on Saturday, December 7. On that day, we'll bring as many people into the store as possible, in return for which 20% of the day's sales will be donated to *cino. Sounds like all-around goodness to me, support *cino, support an important store, and support disadvantaged artisans by buying their products.

That morning as I work, I plan what will happen on Community Shopping Day—live music, activities for kids, and I hope it will feel like a celebration. My earlier sorrow fades and I look ahead to the future. Perhaps we cannot say that one era is better or worse than another. We always have reasons to celebrate and we always have plenty of work to do to make things better.

After doing all the planning that is possible for the morning, I rearrange the window displays, set up a fair trade coffee table and suddenly notice that it has started to snow. A woman comes in and stamps the snow off her shoes near the door as I greet her. "Are you guys new here?" she asks, looking around the store in amazement.

"No," I reply, "We've been here for 15 years." And then I explain our mission.

"Really? That's wonderful." Her eyes land on a hand carved sculpture of a giraffe family. "I think I'm going to be back here more often," she says, as she begins to browse.

I admire the snow and celebrate quietly as I return to my work, realizing once more that God is good and change is possible.

your comments

comments powered by Disqus