Small Business Saturday celebrates your community

• Originally published in the Kane County Chronicle on Nov. 25, 2011

There’s the mad rush of Black Friday and the, “Hey, I’m shopping in my pajama pants!” rush of Cyber Monday.

Small Business Saturday, however, is about a different kind of rush, a better kind of rush – the rush of supporting your community by shopping at small businesses. OK, maybe rush is too strong of a word, but it’s a good thing to do in any case.

Nov. 26 is the second annual Small Business Saturday, a day promoted by American Express to encourage shopping at small businesses after a hectic Black Friday spent at larger chains. (Black Friday, by the way, will go down in history as one of the strangest named days ever. Future students thinking they’re about to learn about the day World War III started or something equally horrible will be surprised to find out Black Friday was nothing more than a day when merchandise was slightly cheaper than the rest of the year.)

Small Business Saturday was a great idea. Small businesses are the backbone of any community, as well as that of the U.S. economy.

According to the Office of Advocacy of the United States Small Business Administration, small businesses employ about half of all private sector employees and have generated about 65 percent of net new jobs in the past two decades.

One of the small businesses that has recently hired more employees is The Pink Hippo in downtown Geneva.

In May, Stephanie Schmoker opened the boutique, which offers American-made products for girls. After a successful start, The Pink Hippo now has three part-time employees.

“I was just able to hire some people because we’re getting really busy, and we’re able to afford it now,” Schmoker said. … “It’s just really working out for us. We’ve been doing really great business. My biggest thing is I don’t order enough; we’re constantly running out, which is a good problem to have in this economy.”

Schmoker started her business after nine years teaching in Naperville. She said she wanted to work somewhere she could set her own hours. She attributes part of her success to the support she has received from the community.

“Everybody’s been really supportive,” Schmoker said. “Other store owners introduce themselves to me and come with pointers, and when I need something, I can call the [chamber of commerce.]

While Schmoker is just getting started in the small business world, there are plenty of those in the Tri-Cities who have been doing this for years.

Town House Books & Cafe opened in St. Charles in 1974. David Hunt has owned it since 1992, adding the cafe in 1996.

“We think of ourselves as an important part of the community,” Hunt said. “We’ve been a community bookstore for all this time. We have a very loyal customer base that thankfully is growing.”

And one of the keys is where that support for small businesses is coming from.

“It’s not just coming from the businesses,” Hunt said. “The public, our customers, are really doing a good job of acknowledging the efforts of independent businesses in downtowns and want to keep them.”

Dave and Linda McFadden have owned Past Basket in Geneva for 33 years after getting their start inside Town House Books.

Linda stressed that being a small business owner means loving what you do.

“The biggest advice that I can give,” she said, “is you really have to enjoy what you’re doing. And if you don’t enjoy it, find something else because it’s tough.”

Owning a small business isn’t easy. It’s a job like any other, and like any other, it has its ups and downs. Very few will ever become filthy rich owning a small business. Most are probably happy to get by while doing something they enjoy.

Small Business Saturday is as much about community as it is small business. It’s about supporting people just like us.

“It’s very important for people to shop in their community,” Schmoker said, “and help build their communities and keep those businesses around.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Joe Grace is a former editor of the Kane County Chronicle who will occasionally drop in. You can write to him at joewriter81@gmail.com.

Recognizing vets who served during war and peace

• Originally published in the Kane County Chronicle on Nov. 11, 2011

Today, we remember and recognize our veterans.

The World War II veterans. The Korean War vets. The Vietnam War vets. The Gulf War vets. And those who have served or are serving in the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Today, we remember and recognize all those who have fought for our country.

But sometimes I think we tend to forget another group of veterans.

Today, I also would like to remember and recognize those who served during peace time.

My father is one of these veterans. He served in the early 1980s when I was a baby, during the sole period in the last 70 years in which we had at least 15 years of not sending a large contingent of soldiers into combat. He might not have fought in a war or a major conflict, but he served, nonetheless. He was willing, nonetheless. And I feel blessed that my father did not have to fight while he served. That we had relative peace during that time. That my mother didn’t have to worry about her son growing up without a father.

A look back at the history of Veterans Day will show why I think it’s important we take time to honor those who did not have to fight, as well as those who did.

Veterans Day started out as Armistice Day, a day to recognize those who served during World War I. According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs’ website, “An Act … approved May 13, 1938, made the 11th of November in each year a legal holiday – a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as Armistice Day.” In 1954, it was changed to Veterans Day to “honor American veterans of all wars.”

Nov. 11 originally was meant as a day to be “dedicated to the cause of world peace.” I think remembering those veterans who served during peace time is a good way to include that original meaning into the holiday.

Certainly, we should and need to continue to honor those who have shown their bravery during conflict. They put their lives on the line for their country. That is a great deed that must be honored. But by also remembering those who did not have to fight on Veterans Day, we remember the ideal – world peace, a country without conflict, what world leaders were so hopeful for after World War I only to see the rest of the century devolve into constant battles.

One day, I hope to see more veterans like my dad – veterans who were ready to fight, who were willing to fight, but didn’t have to.

I have no desire to debate whether getting into the current conflicts was right or wrong. I simply wish for the conflicts to end and for all of our soldiers to come home. And in the future, I hope we become better at preventing wars and conflicts rather than fighting them.

One day, though it will be long after I’ve gone, I hope there will be a Veterans Day when all of the veterans in attendance will be like my father. Ready to serve. Willing to serve. But unused in conflict. Then it will be a day of not only remembrance and recognition, but also of celebration.

Joe Grace is a former editor of the Kane County Chronicle who will occasionally drop in. You can write to him at joewriter81@gmail.com and follow his writings at http://www.joegrace.blogspot.com.