Geoffrey Rush’s character in the Pirates of the Caribbean told Keira Knightly she better believe in ghost stories because she was in one. Just like on the Black Pearl, in this current economic climate, there are ghosts everywhere.
As we jump into a freshly minted 2012, the economy looks, much as it has since 2008, like a ghost story that will never end. For business owners the prospects for accounts steeped in profits and smiles are grim. For the small, independent businesses looking to eek out a living without the benefits of large lines of credit or shrewd and clever accountants to find loopholes and secret cash stores, the economic landscape is even scarier.
But if you own one of these business, if you refuse to close your doors until the last pence is spent, if you are fiercely defiant in your resistance to failure, then I ask you gather here. I want to hear what makes you not quit and tell your story to others.
Independent business is the lifeblood of capitalism. Innovation of products, design and marketing are driven by the small business owners. It is these ideas which are usually snapped up by bigger economic fish and brought to the world at large. Small businesses don’t always make millions of pounds, euros, dollars or yuan as individual units, but collectively, they represent more than half the gross domestic product for most industrialized countries.
Now, just in case you couldn’t tell from my accent, I am not from Devon. What’s worse is that I am not even from the UK. I am from the very place that decided to revolt against good King George III some 236 years ago. In fact, the first time I set foot in England was when I decided to emigrate and move here to the South West. I have been a member of the larger community of North Devon for nearly a year now and I often marvel at the many similarities between the places I have lived in the United States and here… especially economically.
Besides, Adam Smith was British after all and we both share his point of view as the best way to make some cash.
As a former reporter, I covered a region in southern New England that greatly resembled North Devon. Built on the heavy industrial economy supported by its unique geography at the confluence of two major rivers, the Housatonic River Valley in central Connecticut struggled to find its economic identity after the crumbling and decline of the American steel industry. The towns I lived in and covered each day lost their identity and their focus when the factories closed. Apathy and fear replaced the time-honored tradition of being born into, working at, and dying in a mill town. New business development stagnated and fear of failure reigned over all else.
The university I attended is home to the greatest villain to future of independent, small business… Sam Walton, the founder of the Wal-Mart empire. The sports stadium, business school and many other city landmarks were named after Walton and his money-making brood.
Living in two places that represent both ends of the basic economic spectrum, I realized local economies cannot survive without both of these retail forces. The creations of Walton’s ever-expanding capitalist venture – including ASDA – have been seen as a challenge to independent businesses across the States and now here in the UK and North Devon as well. It is true the Wal-Marts, ASDAs, Tescos and Morrisons are constantly growing and expanding, but not because they are bad or evil. They grow because they provide a service that people need, regardless of who we are, where we live, or how much money we make. Small business must find ways through their uniqueness – or “fierce independence” – to succeed alongside the bigger corporate competitors.
Much has been made throughout the recent holiday season about consumer spending, the success and failure of the High Street trade and the uncertain economic future amidst a second double-dip recession. A recent government study estimates a third of the nation’s high streets are "degenerating or failing." By 2014 less than 40 per cent of retail spending will be on the high street, according to the study. A the same time as the spending decline, researchers also found that over the past decade out of town retail space has increased by almost a third while in towns it has shrunk by 14 per cent.
Economic experts agree in order for a revival of the high street and town-based economies a return to community is needed and necessary. Business leaders must cooperate and work together to rebuild a community spirit to lure customers away from only shopping the generic “big box” stores being built outside of town.
Despite their various economic challenges, the towns around and along the Taw and Torridge – just like the towns of the Housatonic River Valley in America – must able to do one thing amazing well: be fervently independent. And they must remain a strong economic unit dedicated to entire community’s success.
Rebuilding that “spirit” of community should not be hard here. Barnstaple is best known for its historical reputation as North Devon’s trading epicenter. Since the time of the Saxon traders, Barnstaple has represented the economic heart of the region, providing the place and the products for the economy to thrive and grow for thousands of years.
Here at http://www.thebestof.co.uk/local/barnstaple and at my own website, http://thedevoianlionheart.com, we hope to celebrate this long and proud economic tradition and look to you, Barnstaple’s fiercely independent business owners, to tell us why you are one of the best. I want to hear your story and maybe some of your recipes for success and share them with our readers.
Over coffee at Fig’s, fresh fish at Fat Belly Freds, or a pasty at East West Bakery, let’s celebrate what makes the Best of Barnstaple. Tell me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Member since: 4th January 2012
American writer living and working in the UK. Topics include fiction, poetry, current events, op-ed, fitness, history and photography.