Why do business owners “cut off their own noses,” as the old saying goes? Why is this such a common occurrence, and what can we do about it?
Owner No. 1 owns a closed-up, turnkey-ready café on Main Street in town, as well as a small quickie-mart/bar close to the lake. It’s a seasonal business, with the bar only open in the evenings.
For a while now, people have asked Owner No. 1 to sell or lease the café but she refuses, because “I do not want competition of any kind.” So Owner No. 1 leased the building to a new business with strict orders to destroy everything and take it to the dump. EVERYTHING. Pizza ovens, commercial restaurant equipment, plates, dishes, tables, silverware, everything. All to prevent potential competition.
Owner No. 2 owns the now-closed lumberyard in town, also on Main Street. An entire block’s worth of buildings. He also owns a smaller lumberyard in a neighboring town 20 miles away. He, too, is adamant about not selling the buildings because “It’s perfect for someone else wanting to start up a lumberyard.” In this particular instance, multiple folks want individual parcels for various enterprises. But, instead of fostering new businesses and adding life to the community, Owner No. 2 would rather the whole block sits empty.
And don’t even get me started on the 30-minute tirade — WHY on earth would we want even more competition in town? — that followed my joke about opening my own breakfast place (the nearest is 30 miles in any direction), or the woman who gave up on opening a bakery because she was told the property she was interested in has ALWAYS been a hamburger stand and wouldn’t work as anything else.
Don’t get me wrong. Business owners DO have the right to determine what is done with property they own, what hours they keep, what inventory they stock, etc. And while I mourn the loss of all that perfectly usable stuff Owner No. 1 just tossed, I recognize her right to do what she thought was best for her. And I am glad that a new business will get its start in this small town, even if it isn’t a café.
But — and this is a big “but” — is it also their right to make their communities responsible for the “empties”? For community tax dollars to be spent for weed and rodent control, and, in the end, to either force owners to clean up or to condemn and raze structures when they become a danger to the public?
Is it fair to the community to force residents to take their dollars out of the area? Is it fair to our communities to turn away budding business owners — read that taxpayers and local revenue streams — because they “may” someday become competition to existing businesses?
And is it right for me to complain when my community lacks the very things people leave for because folks like me did nothing to foster entrepreneurship? Is it right for me to just “go with the flow” when everyone's taxes go up because there are no more businesses to contribute to the pot?
We need to accept that, even in small towns, competition is great. Different businesses, even in the same category, provide different things. A lumberyard may carry the same screwdrivers and fittings as the hardware store down the street, but the bigger items can vary widely — and benefit EVERYbody.
Competition begets innovation, customer service, variety in products and services, and attracts new shoppers and residents. It keeps everyone on their toes.
Maybe that’s what these folks are most afraid of.
Find out more about how Tait & Kate help rural people, communities, and businesses thrive in “Tips & Tales” at www.taitandkate.com.