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Northwest Voices

Seattle Times letters to the editor

December 9, 2008 at 3:33 PM

Memo to the president

We make the economy go ’round

During this past election, rescuing Main Street became the cause celebre for both Republicans and Democrats, each candidate striven to prove to American voters that they best understood the pain of people living on Main Street.

In a recent speech, President-elect Barack Obama again used the Main Street metaphor to reference distressed mortgage holders. But there’s a problem: The metaphor isn’t actually accurate.

Main Street in America isn’t lined with three-bedroom bungalows and two-car garages. Main Street is home to hardware stores and hair salons, bakeries and bistros, pharmacies, flower shops, yoga studios and a dwindling number of independent bookstores. The tenants of Main Street are small businesses — one constituency being ignored in the rush to tackle the current economic crisis racking this country.

For 30 years I’ve owned small businesses — general stores and garden centers in Seattle’s inner-city neighborhoods. My partners and I opened stores in areas undergoing transitions where our presence provided the retail anchor needed to attract other small businesses. We brought new prosperity to our communities and our stores prospered, too. For most of the past three decades, except for the few months following Sept. 11, 2001, we’ve enjoyed positive sales growth.

But with the markets in turmoil, unemployment claims reaching a new high and consumer confidence a new low, we’re watching sales shrink and profits dry up. Like the middle class, we’re struggling, squeezed by the high cost of health insurance, property and business taxes, rent, utilities and freight. Sales and profitability, especially in the past few months, are not keeping pace with the rising costs of doing business.

Between our two stores and a landscape company, my partners and I employ 82 people. Our business will never be deemed too large to fail by the Treasury.

Yet, along with the 26.8 million other small businesses in America, we’re the ones who created a net increase in jobs over the past five years, while big business axed jobs or sent them overseas.

When our new president and Congress take office in January, we need them to implement a stimulus package that takes us into consideration. We need a tax code that works for small businesses, not just large ones. We need affordable health care for our employees and ourselves. We need assurance that credit will be available to us when we need it, not when the banks feel secure in extending it. We need people in Washington, D.C., who care.

Small businesses are the backbone of America. We produce and sell goods, provide services, entertainment, lodging and information. We support local charities, volunteer time and money to keep our neighborhoods clean and safe, and serve on boards of community organizations.

It’s small business owners, like us, who keep the lights of Main Street turned on, display windows filled with cheer, and create well-being in our neighborhoods. If our businesses suffer and fail, if lights are turned off and storefronts boarded up, Main Street in America will be a darker, sadder place.

— Judith Gille, City People’s Mercantile and City People’s Garden Store, Seattle

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