Posts Tagged ‘small business’

The ‘Burbs, Essay Three: Entrepreuener and Shopper

In Uncategorized on May 24, 2012 at 6:28 pm

Two years ago I was sitting in Three Crow Bar on the steamy summer day of East Nashville’s Tomato Festival. I looked out the open window and saw my boss and his family crossing the street. It by no means shocked me to see my suburban boss leading his pretty wife and two teen sons across the street to the Tomato Festival because many families come to enjoy the festivities of that event. What did shock me was what he said the next workday when I told him I’d seen him there. “Yeah, they’ve got a good thing going with that Tomato Festival,” he said. “But what they need to do is get some big corporate sponsors; you know, make it really big!”


Nothing would be more revolting to me than seeing East Nashville’s beloved Tomato Festival turn into the mediocre corporate-sponsored monstrosity my boss envisions. I shudder to think, as would anyone who loves East Nashville as much as I do – and there are plenty of those people – how boring and failing my boss’s Tomato Festival would be. I wondered what makes him want to make everything so mediocre and boring. (It is important you should know if you have not read my previous two blogs in this series on the suburbs, that my boss is suburban to his core. His sons go to private schools, he has two cars plus his wife’s, and is proud to have just moved into a large new house on a golf course. Incidentally, he still hasn’t sold his former residence – a house two miles from the one he just moved in to.)

I think his brand of entrepreneurial vision says something about suburban living. In the suburbs it’s not about reaching up, it’s about pulling everything and everyone else down into mediocrity. And the reason so many people are so comfortable with the mediocre is that it’s so graspable, so like them. Two paragons of mediocrity are Jason Mraz and Taylor Swift; their songs are so easy to listen to, get stuck in your head, and for suburbanites to relate to because there is nothing challenging about their lyrics, nothing original about their songs’ hooks and formulas. There’s nothing on the suburbanite’s radio dial that would do anything to keep mediocre suburbanites from being anything but mediocre suburbanites. All their preferred music and entertainment is just themselves reflected back to them. The suburbanite entrepreneur follows the same principle as these other areas of its culture. Uncomfortable with true innovation, the mediocre suburbanite entrepreneur is likely to depend on some existing formula to either start or grow a business. He is uncomfortable with ingenuity and vision because it’s not his own.

By contrast, the vision East Nashville entrepreneurs have comes from their true desires, their passions, their artistry; not from jumping on someone else’s bandwagon, but from jumping totally off the bandwagon – or never jumping on in the first place.

Do you know what the most important thing that culturally thriving towns and cities have that mediocre suburbs don’t? Guts.

The people who live in a place like East Nashville have guts. They are brimming over with gumption. For many of them, it’s the only way they know how to live. They don’t do things they’re supposed to do; they do things they want to do. They don’t do things because other people are doing them; they do things that are right for them personally.

They don’t choose their clothes and music based on whatever is available; they choose their clothes and music based on a trueness to themselves. They like to get out and have new experiences that challenge them, change them, and make them better people.

Hence, the ‘suburbs versus cities and towns conflict’ is a geographical one that reflects a cultural battle. It’s a battle that no one talks about, but people feel it. The evidence lies in suburban envy and dissatisfaction.

Recently, Target Stores (the hallmark of all things suburbanite) has caught on to the envy its patrons often feel toward communities of original entrepreneurs. Like my co-worker who claimed to be jealous when I told her there is a charming gourmet ice cream shop around the corner from my house in Nashville, and, more recently, that the Nashville Farmers’ Market is just five minutes from my house, many suburbanites are feeling a little shafted. They just have the same boring places to shop all the time while we have boutiques and cottage industries, art festivals and artisans, gourmet ice cream shops and bold food trucks. So, Target has come to their rescue. They have launched a new line of products that can be found in their “The Shops” department.

The very existence of Target’s “The Shops” is an out-and-out admission that suburban life is boring and that they can hardly be depended upon to come up with and actually support an artisan community. They’ll only support an artisan community if it’s bundled up inside a big box retail store where they know exactly what to expect when they walk in.

There are two reasons why suburbanites love their big box retail stores and support them without question or fail.

1) Suburbanites want a spacious area in which to shop. They like things big. They like big cars that can support their sometimes big families and big children. But they also like spaciousness because it allows them to keep distance from others. By extension of where they’ve chosen to live (in the suburbs), they grow to prefer a distance from the hubbub of the rest of the world. They like seclusion and the sensation of exclusivity it brings, even though they’d be loath to admit it. They’ve already taken great lengths to place themselves in a bubble that is far removed from “otherness”. One way “otherness” is expressed is through originality. To the suburbanite, “otherness” is originality, and that’s why they’re so put off by the idea of entering a place of business and interacting with its actual originators. They’d rather go into Target, chase the experience of shopping boutique items – an experience Target is more than happy to help them superficially create -, and not have to confront the uniqueness suburbia so desperately abhors. This unoriginal, mediocre person I call “the suburbanite” does not like to be faced with bold, creative people because it reminds them how desperately deficient they are. (In essence, it’s the same reason popular kids in high school rarely want anything to do with members of the marching band or the art club.)

2) Suburbanites want the best of all worlds in one convenient location. Simply put, they want the world to come to them; they don’t want to have to go to it. Just as my boss made evident when he wanted to make the Tomato Festival lame by bringing in rich, suburban-focused sponsors, he – my sponsor suburbanite – would rather dilute any originality he finds than actually express admiration and awe for it.

One more word about Target: Target’s worst nightmare is to have a lower suburban population. A lower suburban population would mean that people are becoming more progressive, living more in cities that can support small businesses or communities that have ordinances against large corporate businesses. It would mean Target would experience less power over its consumers because it would mean they Target and large stores like Target were competing with originality, with small businesses in which consumers would be in direct contact with the business owners. And Target knows that would be bad news. Target could never compete with that level of personality if consumers would wise up and truly shop local.

My boss’s idea of “shopping locally” is to go across the street to Sam’s Club instead of ordering office supplies from Staples’s website. Well, I appreciate the movement toward reducing green-house gas emissions by decreasing the traveling that is necessitated by the purveyance of our office supplies by delivery, but what does it say about a community whose choices are Sam’s Club or Staples? This suburban Tennessee community needs more choices, more small businesses, and more consumer power. Patronizing Sam’s Club, Target, and Staples ain’t gonna get it there.


Working in the ‘Burbs, or, Hell

In Uncategorized on May 15, 2012 at 8:16 pm

In the coming days and/or weeks I’ll be blogging a series of essays about suburban life versus city/town/progressive living. The number of blogs I’ll include in this series is yet to be determined.

“Look, I’m just going to be straightforward with you,” I told my boss. “I don’t feel a real connection with the people here. I don’t live here. …And I don’t want to live here. It’s hard to connect with them because we’re so different. I don’t have a lot in common with people here. You do, and that’s why it’s no problem for you to connect with them.”

“Yeah,” he said, “I guess I understand. I mean, I have kids, most of them have kids.”

Uh, no. That is not at all what I meant.

He totally missed my point. But it was obvious to me from that one response that he did not and would never understand where I was coming from.

And that’s because he doesn’t understand where I come from.

I work in the suburbs.

I live in Nashville.

Driving home every evening from a suburb situated northeast of the city of Nashville, I find myself breathing a sigh of relief when I see the buildings of the Nashville skyline peaking over the trees on Ellington Parkway. I even crane my neck a little sometimes, I think in an effort to just get my head into the city a little faster. It’s an enormous relief to me that just a quick turn left on Cleveland Street will get me to the streets of passionate, creative people who are working hard to make our little corner of the world special and desirable to travel to, dine and be entertained in, to learn in. They set up their cafes and coffee shops, their garden emporiums and saloons, urban green labs, pet hospitals and antique stores, their micro-breweries and beer gardens, bakeries and butchers, their salons and music stores in East Nashville because they know they’ll not only be patronized, but celebrated and encouraged.

When I turn my car onto Ellington Parkway every weekday morning to head north to work, I audibly groan. The skyline is behind me. What’s before me is a seemingly endless stream of chain restaurants, mega-churches, the same clothing retailers you’d find in any town of this size, and, just as I get off the bypass, I pass a Sam’s Club – the paragon of all things big, bad, and destructive.

When conservatives refer to job creation, know that they’re talking about creating jobs at places like Sam’s Club. It’s a magnet for the undereducated, uneducated, unskilled, and downtrodden job-seeker; the desperation of the afore-described worker makes it possible for employers to exploit their workers, treat them terribly, and expect a “thank you” for the privilege.

If you ever wonder why Republicans rail against making college more affordable, student loan interest rates lower, it’s because they are uninterested in helping to create a talented, knowledgeable work force of critical thinkers who will stick up for themselves and demand to be treated like humans. The highly-educated work force doesn’t want to work somewhere like Wal Mart or Sam’s Club; no, they want to create their own businesses. A larger work force of college-educated or highly skilled workers who are opening their own businesses, pursuing their true dreams while rejecting the corporate-ladder-ascent made popular in the Reagan, or Me Era means a smaller pool of desperate workers large corporations could choose from. And a smaller pool of unskilled workers would mean increased wages and more staffing competition between big-box retailer “job creators”. And that’s not lucrative for a big business’s bottom line profit or its CEO’s bonuses.

So, as I pass by Sam’s Club and see all the hulking SUV’s in its parking lot, I moan, “Gods, I hate this place.” The people of this community never seem to consider their own power as consumers. They do not ask who they are benefiting or hurting by shopping at Wal Mart, Sam’s Club, etc. They just go there because it’s cheap and because, well, it’s there. They sadly seem to be asking no questions at all. Indeed, Sam’s Club and Wal Mart patrons are seduced by all things “inexpensive”, as if the less money one has to spend on something, the more justifiable the purchase is.

A coworker (whom I love dearly) asked me one Monday if I’d had a good weekend. I explained to her that after watching a televised Predators playoff victory over the Red Wings, my partner and I had walked a couple of blocks to an ice cream shop. “It’s close enough to walk to? Oh! I’m so jealous,” she proclaimed.

People who live in the cultural deserts we call suburbs are always claiming to be jealous of people who live in interesting towns and cities. And I’ve no doubt they are. They have just as many reasons to be jealous of non-suburban community-dwellers as I do to feel sorry for the unknowingly oppressed suburbanite.

But they’ve made their beds. Now they have to live in them.

They chose to go the way of the first suburbanites – the parents of the Baby Boom generation – without question. The first suburbanites were immensely proud of themselves and their country. They were living in a time of victory and prosperity. They had just won the biggest war in the history of the world, their standard of living was on the rise, and some of them were being given the chance to become far more educated than their parents had ever dreamed of being. They were becoming privileged.

The earliest suburbanites fled the cities for the haven of newly constructed neighborhoods that bore nature-imbued names like “Sunny Meadows” or “Oak River” or whatever contrived, vapid misnomer a developer effortlessly vomited. The first suburbanites may have thought they were in search of meadows and rivers, a natural landscape, and they weren’t completely wrong about that. But the less palatable truth of the matter is that they were in search of a plantation without Blacks. The Blacks were meant to commute daily into White neighborhoods to accomplish the menial tasks of a White household, but then disappear to ‘across the tracks’ until the next morning’s chores beckoned them back again.

This was the era of white flight. Suburbs were white, cities were black. Suburbanites wish to build as wide a chasm as possible between themselves and anyone who is different. Suburbs love conformity; and if you don’t believe me, just Google “Levittown” and gaze upon that early suburb’s uniform, saltbox houses.

Suburbanites are deathly afraid of otherness. They resent it when people branch out, explore, and become, essentially, different. It struck me as odd (partly because I was such a lover of all things different, “alternative”, as a high schooler) when I was first getting to know this suburban community, that their worst fear was that their children would become “Goth”. Black fingernail polish and dark hair dye are always looked upon suspiciously in this suburb. I tried to tell many of these suburbanites I work with that I, myself, was “Goth” in high school, but they just wouldn’t accept it as a truth. I believe they think I’m joking. They couldn’t possibly comprehend how a young girl who explored her “dark side” could end up being a successful, widely admired leader – and that they themselves ended up working with her!

In the following days’ blogs I will explore several aspects of the suburb I work within. Those aspects include religion, money, economic interests, and education.