Americans love small businesses, because they reflect many of the things we value: being self-made, creative, helping others, and being good neighbors. In short, small businesses embody many of the characteristics we think of as distinctly American.
Small businesses are the places that give our communities character and shape our memories – the ice cream stand you go to every year on vacation, the used book store where you find hidden treasures, the hardware store where the staff are always extra helpful.
And because small businesses rely on relationships to survive, they make us feel more human in our transactions. The favorite hairdresser you return to every few months, the appliance repairman who services everything that breaks in your home, the funeral home that gently handles the details around the passing of a loved one, these are all transactional relationships, but they involve an exercise of trust and human connection.
When we think of small business owners, we probably have someone we know personally in mind. That hairdresser, appliance repairman, or funeral home director is a person with a dream, someone who takes that dream and builds it into something useful to the community and then reaps the rewards of her own labor.
And so, it feels even more difficult to watch many of these small business owners struggle in the wake of the pandemic. Many of their dreams will come to a premature end, and while their knowledge and labor will still exist, restarting will not be easy.
When we think about small businesses, we may appreciate their role in our communities, but we rarely think about the fragility of that model in a crisis or the challenge of beginning again.
If we really value small businesses and the American Dream, we need to think about how to help them recover after the pandemic. We know that over 846 different regulations were waived in the wake of COVID-19 to help businesses respond to the disaster and adapt to keep their businesses afloat.
On our podcast we’ve talked to experts about the burdens that occupational licensing puts on individuals and small businesses trying to support themselves. Perhaps we should also be thinking beyond the crisis and taking a hard look at what stands in the way of the small businesses we value fulfilling the American Dream every day.