The Dream Is Alive - BodyShop Business

The Dream Is Alive

While strolling through his neighborhood, Editor Jason Stahl discovers that the American dream of owning a thriving small business isn't quite dead yet.

The city of Lakewood, Ohio, sits on the shores of Lake Erie, which for all you trivia buffs is the shallowest of the five Great Lakes. It has been voted one of the best Cleveland suburbs to live in because of its scenic lake views, quaint old houses and sound school system. It’s the perfect mix of white-picket-fence suburb and nitty gritty big city.

It’s also a great place to have a rollicking good time. Its roughly 50,000 residents have more than 100 bars to whet their whistles at, most of which line the two major avenues, Detroit and Madison, which run parallel to each other straight through town. Such easy access to alcohol provides for some occasional shenanigans and noise in the early morning hours, but it’s a small price to pay to live in such a vibrant community.

I’ve lived there now for seven years and am still discovering new things about the city. A good example is the other night when I took an evening walk around town. I’ve tried to make that a habit over the past few months, and I try to vary my route so I don’t get bored and get to see new things in what seems like slow motion compared to when you’re zooming by in a car.

I decided to take a stroll down Madison Avenue (sounds like New York, right?) to get away from the houses and see more of the little shops that line the street, and I was amazed at what I saw.

For the past several years or longer, it seems, we’ve been hearing about the assault on small business owners in America and how the government is making it harder and harder for them to prosper. Body shop owners wholeheartedly include themselves in this group, with the added stressor of more and more intrusion into their business by insurers. One longtime shop owner recently lamented to me about how the entrepreneurial spirit that once drove the collision industry is now being squashed by the powers that be in favor of homogenizing everyone into a “factory of sameness.”

Despite the well-publicized hardships of small business, I found evidence along Madison Avenue that the entrepreneurial spirit is still alive and well: barber shops, interior decorators, dance studios, photography studios, a cupcake shop, even a travel agency! I thought travel agencies had gone the way of the dinosaur due to people making their own vacation plans on the Internet. I remember one travel agent telling me years ago, “Oh yeah, everyone thinks they’re a travel expert now because of the web.” But anyone who has ever made reservations at a “five-star luxury hotel” online and then arrived at their vacation spot to find that the hotel was actually a pink stucco hovel surrounded by barbed wire knows the value of consulting with a real travel expert.

The cupcake shop really caught my attention. I could just see the story: a young woman makes great money as an accountant but hates her job. She thinks about how all of her relatives constantly rave about her cupcakes and how she should start her own business, and WHAM – the next day she quits her job, takes out a small business loan (Can you still get those? Maybe she borrows money from her family) and pursues her dream, trading in 10-hour days for 15-hour days but loving every minute of it.

It didn’t look like every one of these businesses was actually thriving. In fact, I could read in the sagging storefronts and out-of-date decor that perhaps some were struggling. And I couldn’t help notice the occasional vacant storefronts, too, each representing a business that failed. But the fact that they existed was proof to me that perhaps the American dream isn’t quite dead just yet. Perhaps there still is room for entrepreneurs in this world.

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