Small Business is Best, Except When it’s Not

Written by Christopher Moore on . Posted in Opinion and Column, Opinion Our Town, Opinion West Side Spirit, Our Town, Our Town Downtown, West Side Spirit.


Save mom-and-pop stores, but they should save us from bad service

When I went there, though, my prescriptions were not ready—even after I’d been assured by phone beforehand that they would be filled. I will never get back the hours I spent standing around waiting for the men in white coats to get their work done.
Currently, I get my prescriptions filled by Frank at Duane Reade.

If bigger is not necessarily better, well, neither is smaller. This is something I’ve been thinking about as the Bloomberg administration and West Side Council Member Gale A. Brewer are working with many others to save small businesses. Proposed regulations would limit the scope of some storefronts, to encourage fewer banks and more independent shops. Just last week, Bloomberg went further and unveiled plans for a new office to help businesses, especially smaller ones, “navigate city bureaucracy,” as the Wall Street Journal put it.
I’m backing both proposals. But I stopped believing that every mom-and-pop store deserves to succeed around the time I noticed that mom and pop were treating me like crap.

Sometimes, small places screw up. My spouse and I go through dry cleaners the way the Octomom goes through Pampers. Some of our clothes recently played a dramatic game of lost and found. We go back and forth between the expensive cleaner who keeps calling to say he forgot to charge for one of the shirts or the woman with the ecofascist lecture promoting a special clothing case—one we would have to pay for—so as not to use up plastic dry-cleaning bags. In a city with so many dry cleaners, why are all the annoying ones in my neighborhood?

I’m not alone in my mixed feelings about the occasional small business. “I was overcharged,” a harried-looking woman told a merchant in front of a little city market on Broadway in April. “At this point, I’m not coming back.”

“Why are you not coming back?” the fellow said, evidently having missed the part about her being overcharged.
“Because I don’t like this,” the woman said.

I don’t like it either. Yesterday when the three men at the diner counter in lower Manhattan chatted with each other and ignored me, I didn’t like it. I walked out. Whenever someone takes a phone call instead of dealing with me, when I took the time to show up in person, I don’t like it. The young waiter at the unsurprisingly now-defunct Italian eatery who was texting instead of taking orders? The gentlemen at the pricey restaurant uptown who take away plates before we’re finished eating them? I don’t like any of it.

When I was growing up, my parents owned an independent bookstore. The place had nearly a three-decade run. When it was over, I zipped into Barnes & Noble and bought a membership card. I was exhausted from all the years of fighting the good fight, being on the side of the little guy. Now it turns out that Barnes & Noble, after killing bookstores across the nation, is the little guy in the battle against Amazon. Talk about what goes around, comes around.

Let’s do what we can to create a fair playing field for small businesses. Then, within those establishments, let’s set up rules on how to treat customers better. Surely, fine service must be central to what smaller businesses offer their communities.
What I want in a store or restaurant, big or small, is to be noticed, appreciated and treated well.

Christopher Moore is a writer living in Manhattan. He’s available by email at ccmnj
@aol.com and on Twitter @cmoorenyc.

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