The topic for my capstone project is the importance of small (locally owned) businesses in Jefferson, Wis. I am focusing on how they are involved in the community and how they maintain their business in such a small town. If I were to form my topic into a question, it would “how do small/local businesses in Jefferson give back to the community that they depend on to stay in business?” For the project, I looked at what the small businesses do to stay afloat in the economy, and how the local economy and community benefit from supporting their local businesses.
Another area of focus for this project is the effect of chain/big businesses that have come to Jefferson, specifically Walmart as the primary competition. Walmart came into Jefferson, and has caused competition for the other grocery store in Jefferson, Piggly Wiggly. Other chains have come into Jefferson, such as McDonald’s, Little Caesar’s Pizza, and Kwik Trip. These all can cause problems for the locally owned businesses in town, such as Burger Corner, Wedl’s Hamburger Stand, Pizza Pit, and Citgo/River’s Edge Meat Market. When conducting my research, I stumbled on an organization called Institute for Local Self-Reliance, and it’s all about how small businesses can stimulate local economies, and can contribute more to the community than big-box stores, such as Walmart.
The Institute for Local Self-Reliance gave a top 10 reasons to support local businesses. The first example is that it gives local character and prosperity. In Jefferson, for example, there is Rock River Gallery, which provides Collectivo coffee, jewelry and crafts created by local artists, and a photography studio. Instead of getting these things from Walmart, people in Jefferson can get one-of-a-kind gifts from a local business that is one-of-a-kind in such a small community.
Another reason ILSR gives for supporting local business is community well-being. This is one of the most important reasons to support local business, especially in Jefferson. Because Jefferson is a small community of roughly 7,900 people, many of whom have lived there their entire lives; there is the small town mentality that everyone knows everyone. These small businesses can also create environments that cause interaction between customers, which can encourage community members to build relationships with one another and the store owners and employees. In an article from Forbes, it’s stated that “many business owners have spent their professional lives building and running their own business: it’s not just their job. It’s the core family asset, their livelihood and their retirement. Often it defines them in their community” (Fairbrothers & Goria, 3).
In an article from ILSR, writer Stacy Mitchell says “To run one’s errands in places that encourage lingering and conversation, where economic exchange is embedded in human relationships, is to experience the place where you live in a meaningful way” (Mitchell, 2, Apr. 2013). Building relationships with local businesses is so important; it makes people feel they are an important member of the community. From personal experience, Brickhaus Café always welcomes me with asking if I want my “usual”—a double caramel latte—and it makes me feel at home. The small-town notion of building relationships with shop owners and customers makes everyone feel involved. This can actually be an advantage for local businesses. The businesses are owned by people who become prominent in the Jefferson community, because they become involved with other people and organizations in the community.
John Anhalt, owner of Burger Corner in Jefferson, is highly involved with the community, and has been since he started his own business. Anhalt has been in the fast food business for 50 years, originally starting out with Dairy Queen, which multiple family members also operate. Anhalt branched out from the Dairy Queen franchise when he bought Jim’s Burger Corner, which, coincidentally, was originally a Dairy Queen. Jim wanted someone who would keep the nostalgic atmosphere of the fast food burger joints of the 1950s and ‘60s. Even after the flood of 2008—which destroyed the original building—Anhalt rebuilt and maintains that same atmosphere in the new building, which opened in July of 2009. Anhalt enjoys having his own small business for various reasons.
“I love the freedom of a small business, and that can come from different things—freedom of my hours, freedom of what I want to do—and having your fate in your own hands,” Anhalt said. “If you have your own small business, it gives you great satisfaction. If you love your job, you never work a day in your life.”
Not only does Anhalt have his own local business, he tries to support other small businesses in the area whenever possible. This applies to another reason ILSR gave for supporting locally owned business: keeping dollars in the local economy. Meat products come from the meat market, River’s Edge, right down the street. He also buys produce from River’s Edge, and refers customers to the meat market when they’re looking for baked goods (River’s Edge has expanded into a bakery as well).
“I like buying local because I know where the product is coming from and I know it’s fresh, which is important to me,” Anhalt said. “I just like helping out other people in the community. Anything that I can buy local, I do, because I like to help my own first. What goes around comes around, and who knows, they might come in here and buy a cone.”
Anhalt also gives back to the community whenever he can. This is another way he supports the local economy; it’s a give and take with the community, Anhalt said. He has donated to various fundraisers and organizations, such as Christmas Neighbors, Tomorrow’s Hope, the Dream Center of Wisconsin, high school sports teams, parochial sports teams, etc. Anhalt also participates in the jail ministry, in which he talks to Jefferson County jail inmates about God, but also is active in finding them employment and housing after they’re released.
Though there are cons to owning a small business, Anhalt believes the pros outweigh them. He gets to build relationships with customers, many of whom have become his friends throughout the years. If he gets to make a customer happy, he’s happy.
“There are nice people here,” Anhalt said. “They’re a little clique-ish at first, but once you get them on your side, they’re like a bulldog: they’ll be here for life.”
Another small business in Jefferson is Once and Again Consignments, which is a consignment retail shop. The owner, Mary Krueger, first opened the business after shopping at various thrift shops in the area.
“I never thought I would open a small business,” Krueger said. “I was mostly a stay-at-home mom and used to mostly do rummage sales and second-hand shopping. One day I said ‘I bet I could do this.’ It’s just something I was challenging myself to do, and I saw it as something Jefferson could used. We only have two thrift stores—St. Vincent De Paul and Twice As Nice—but really nothing else something more upscale.”
Jefferson’s lack of retail stores makes Krueger’s store unique to the community. Another reason the store is unique to the community how the store gives back to the community. In November, Once and Again collected food for Christmas Neighbors. Every month, there is a rummage sale area in the basement of the store, with items priced at rummage sale prices. All of the proceeds of those items go to different organizations, such as Christmas Neighbors, Tomorrow’s Hope, and Rainbow Hospice.
“The consigners love it,” Krueger said. “The customers appreciate knowing that if they get the good deals from the rummage stuff, that their money is going to a good cause.”
Krueger and her store also donate items to human services and the Jefferson Middle School. The middle school has an “eagle room,” where students can go to get clothes without the embarrassment of rummaging and facing the social stigma of not having name-brand clothes, Krueger said. Krueger likes to keep the majority of her donations in the community, but she has also donated to organizations in Madison, Milwaukee, and a Native American reservation in South Dakota.
The small-town feel of owning a local business is another aspect that Krueger enjoys. She gets to build relationships with customers and their families. These relationships can even expand outside the store. Krueger will sometimes personally go to consigners’ home if they’re elderly, and pick up items. It’s enjoyable to be able to ask about each other’s families and form a close relationship with customers, Krueger said. Although the gossip of a small town can be a negative effect on a small business, Krueger believes it can be resolved.
“You have to stay very neutral,” Krueger said. “There’s a lot of gossip that goes on. You can’t say ‘oh, I agree with you, that person is awful’. You have say you know nothing about it personally, and you can’t make a judgment. You have to be really careful.”
Another small business that is thriving in Jefferson is Wine and Roses. Wine and Roses is a full-service floral shop, providing flowers for funerals, birthdays, weddings, etc. The store also has a variety of wines to purchase, along with home-brewing kits for wine and beer. Owner Peggy Bare has been a resident of Jefferson all her life, and has been involved with different small businesses for the last 25 years. She and her husband, Tim, have maintained a real estate business throughout those years, but the Bares wanted to open another small business after the real estate market became unreliable.
“I tried to find something in Jefferson that there was a need for in the community, which is why I picked the flower shop,” Bare said. “I also combined it with a hobby that I was passionate about, which was making wine.”
When Bare originally opened Wine and Roses, she thought the home-brewing kits and wine retail would be the main sellers, with the floral shop being the extra part of the business. It soon turned out to be the other way around. The business is highly order-driven, in which a nine to five schedule is not always nine to five; it can be more or less depending on how big orders are, Bare said. Because there is not another floral shop in Jefferson, the two funeral homes—Olsen Funeral Home and Schneider-Michaelis Funeral Home—have relied heavily on Wine and Roses. Families work closely with both the funeral home and Wine and Roses when picking floral arrangements and ideas for the funerals. Bare said this can be difficult when living in such a small community such as Jefferson, especially when she knows the person who died, or the death was tragic, such as the recent passing of Jordan Vogel, a 23-year-old firefighter and well-known community member. Although those times are troubling, it allows another pro of owning a small business in a small community: building close customer relationships.
Bare also built a close relationship with the city, in restoring an old, vacant building into a business that stimulates the local economy. Bare had to make a presentation to the city planning commission, with siding samples, building materials, and layout of what the new store would look like. She was able to receive a $15,000 façade grant from the city, along with TIF money. Bare took a vacant building off the tax roll from the city and their tax payers, which is another reason supporting local business is so important; it helps the taxpayers.
When comparing the impact of big-box stores to local businesses, there is one big-box store that has caused a massive impact in Jefferson: Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart opened in Jefferson in 2008, with backlash from many local businesses, specifically Piggly Wiggly and Frank’s County Market. County Market eventually went out of business in 2011, after being unable to compete with Wal-Mart, which was located directly across the highway. In a study done by Carlena Cochi Ficano for Social Science Quarterly, it was found that in within 15 months of opening a new Wal-Mart, between 4.4 and 14.2 retail establishments close (Ficano, 263). This study can be tied into the closing of Frank’s County Market in Jefferson. According to Ficano’s study, it “suggests that Wal-Mart triggers significant churn in the local labor market, with large numbers of people laid off, facing periods of unemployment followed by new jobs that may be only part-time or lower paying” (Ficano,289). The opening of Wal-Mart and the closing of Frank’s County Market left many people in the community displaced for work. Thankfully, River’s Edge Meat Market and Piggly Wiggly both employed many people from County Market, keeping them locally employed, and still encouraging local business.
Although Wal-Mart provides convenience for many people in Jefferson and surrounding cities such as Fort Atkinson and Johnson Creek, the big-box store actually costs taxpayers through public assistance such as healthcare, housing, and food stamps. In a study done by ILSR, it was found that “the average Wal-Mart worker required $730 in taxpayer-funded healthcare and $1,222 in other forms of assistance such as food stamps and subsidized housing, to get by” (Mitchell,1, Aug. 2004). Although this study was done about Wal-Mart employees in California, similar studies have been done about workers in Missouri, New Jersey, and Wisconsin. The biggest problem that Mitchell found was that small businesses that provide health insurance have to pay out-of-pocket, while big-box stores such as Wal-Mart make the local taxpayers the primary providers in paying for their health care costs (Mitchell, 1, Jun. 2013). Mitchell also brings up the fact that “Democratic staffers in the House roughly estimate that Wal-Mart employees require about $3,000 a year in public assistance on average. That works out to about $900,000 per supercenter and more than $4 billion annually in public costs nationwide” (Mitchell, 2, Jun. 2013).
The public costs of having a big-box store in competition with small-business are an eye-opener as to why communities should support their local businesses. Local businesses are so important to communities for various reasons. They stimulate the local economy, bring character to their community, encourage community involvement from customers, employees, and owners, and create a diversity of retail. Jefferson was once a bustling retail destination because of the intersection of the Rock and Crawfish rivers and plethora of businesses. With the encroachment of big-box stores such as Wal-Mart and Menard’s, the decrease of local businesses have become all too real, with the closing of Frank’s County Market and the soon-to-be closed Punzel’s Hardware Store. Supporting local business is what can truly make or break a small town, and with new small businesses such as Brickhaus Café and having a farmer’s market every week during the non-Winter months, Jefferson is slowly headed back in the right direction.
Anhalt, J. (2013, Dec. 04). Personal Interview.
Bare, P. (2013, Dec. 08). Personal Interview.
Fairbrothers, G., & Goria, C. (2012, July 05). Social value and corevalue: small businesses and local communities. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/greggfairbrothers/2012/07/05/social-value-and-corevalue-small-businesses-and-local-communities/
Ficano, C. C. (2012). Business churn and the retail giant: Establishment birth and death from wal-mart’s entry. Social Science Quarterly, 94: 263-291. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-6237.2012.00857.x
Krueger, M. (2013, Dec. 04). Personal Interview.
Mitchell, S. (2013, April 26). Locally owned businesses can help communities thrive–and survive climate change. Retrieved from http://www.ilsr.org/locally-owned-businesses-communities-thrive-survive-climate-change/
Mitchell, S. (2013, June 07). New data show how big chains free ride on taxpayers at the expense of responsible small businesses. Retrieved from http://www.ilsr.org/chains-walmart-foods-free-ride-taxpayers-expense-responsible-small-businesses/
Mitchell, S. (2004, August 13). New study find wal-mart’s miserly wages cost taxpayers. Retrieved from http://www.ilsr.org/new-study-finds-walmarts-miserly-wages-cost-taxpayers/
Mitchell, S. (2012, Dec. 10). Top 10 reasons to support locally owned businesses. Retrieved from http://www.ilsr.org/why-support-locally-owned-businesses/