Editorial by Matt Stevens
The past few years have been a defining moment in our nation's history. With the radical recession of the economy in the late 2000s, and the aftermath, there is no doubt that Americans everywhere have had to gird their loins and follow through with a number of real gut-checks. It has been a time of stress and hardship. We have seen a spike in unemployment, a weaker dollar, and the death of small business all over the nation.
Still, I knew that there had to have been some success somewhere in the country, and I didn't think that it would be too hard to find either. As it turns out, I was right.
Sure, things have been hard. We have all been tested. And yes, a vast number of people have lost their jobs and many proprietors have lost their businesses. But we are forgetting the fact that a great number of people have, indeed, managed to pull through this crisis. All it took was a can-do attitude and some elbow grease.
Well, maybe a little more than that. Just ask Brian Nankey. For the past 10 years, Nankey has been the owner of Lewiston Computer Services, a small computer repair and retail center in the heart of Lewiston. I spoke with Nankey for a brief amount of time and questioned him on some of the things he had to do in order to successfully weather the economic storm of the past few years.
"It's a lot of work owning your own business. You have to manage your expenses and pay attention to business trends," he said.
Nankey stated that, during the rough period of the late 2000s, he cut a number of personnel. He is currently the only member of his family that works at the shop, and he has two other employees that work with him as well.
Next door, Bill Warren, of Warren's Village Hardware, serves to help the people of Lewiston with all of their fix-it needs. When he purchased the facility from its prior owner, he said that it needed "some serious work." Before re-opening on April 30, Warren spent 10 hours a day, seven days a week, painting, organizing and setting up shop. He did the same once the business was up and running to make sure that things were going smoothly.
Warren's hardware store is just taking off, but the real story comes from his past. He owned an insurance agency for 25 years before selling his business to First Niagara in 1999. After that, he owned part of a tool rental department for about seven years. In 2006, he sold his interest in the business, and bought and sold properties until he purchased what is now Warren's Village Hardware. With the exception of one part-timer, the store is entirely family-owned and operated. He works at the shop full-time with his son, Tim, daughter, Ashley, and wife, Gail.
It's funny, because I went into these interviews expecting to hear about how tough and stressful things have been for the owners and their families. When I asked the owners if things have been hard, neither one alluded to that.
"It's about knowing what needs to be done, and then doing it. Once you do that, you have nothing to worry about," Warren said.
These owners don't complain, and they don't wait for someone's help. They do the job that needs to be done, because it needs to be done. They aren't sore over that fact, because that's just the way it is.
I asked them if they had any words of wisdom for people who are trying to get a business going in this day and age.
"Believe in what you're selling," replied Nankey. "Go out, push it, and don't quit."
Small businesses often push their products to the general public. Unlike supercenters like Home Depot and Lowes, smaller companies don't have the benefit of commercials. Warren sent out fliers and put various ads in the Lewiston Sentinel. He has also held two sales through Pro Hardware since the opening of the shop.
"For big projects like renovations, people don't come to us. They go to one of the big chains for that," he said. "We don't wait around for big remodeling jobs, we help people with their every day fix-it needs."
Warren also admitted that the hardware business has been a relatively safe one for him. "This business is not recession-proof, but it is recession-resistant. People need to fix things, no matter what state the economy is in," he said.
After I asked him for some guiding words for any future business owners, he responded after a hearty laugh, "start with lots of money." He went on to explain that banks are not so keen on lending money to just anyone these days. It takes a lot to get a business off the ground, but you've "got to keep going forward; got to keep looking at the end of the tunnel."
When asked if they believe in the "American Dream," each businessman replied, without hesitation.
"Absolutely." Nankey said. "It's all about what you put into it."
Warren had a similar answer: "If you're willing to work at it."
In this day and age, the public only sees the demise of small businesses. And I won't deny that is a real fact. Small businesses have gone under in recent years. But what we don't see enough of are people like Bill Warren and Brian Nankey. Men who have gritted their teeth and stared this crisis in the face and said, "No, I will not let everything I have worked for go away because of you."
That is the exceptional nature and the drive that sets this country and her people apart from the others in the world. We should all be so lucky to have the initiative and the drive that so many of America's small businessmen and women still possess.