Inside was a smiling, balding Italian man with a fringe of white hair. "Welcome, welcome," he would say to all who entered. He would take our order as his wife would cut the meat in a hand-cranked meatslicer. Other times we would order pizza, when my sister would beg for it, from Aurillios on the other side of town. It was also in a red brick building but had become so successful that they had knocked down the wall to next door.
There was a restaurant called "The Sweet Shop," but I never figured out why, it was just a cafe'. Then there was a cafe' that just called itself "The Restaurant." It was right next to the Homewood Theater which was, like most all of the businesses, independently owned. On the other side of town near where I lived was an independent grocery store, a music store and a bridal shop. There was a Ben Franklin five and ten cent store where we bought candy and baseball cards.
For some reason, though, Skonczyki Pharmacy always had better baseball cards. It had lots of much and a little bit of everything. In the corner was a tube tester and if they didn't have the tube you needed Mr. Skonczyki would order it and have it in a day or two. I went to school with Moose Skonczyki, well, actually, it was Adrian but Adrian would prefer that you called him Moose. Maybe it was because he bore a striking resemblance to Bullwinkle, or maybe it was his impression, "Well, I don't know, Rocky."
Down the street was the barbershop. I don't know if it had a name other than the barbershop. Three barbers and on Saturdays expect a wait; all the kids wanted Larry to cut their hair. Larry was cool, the other two guys were old codgers but Larry drove a stock car. The space around his chair was covered with photos of him with checkered flags and pretty girls kissing him. There were trophies on the wall and Larry always had the new issue of Mad Magazine. "Hey, make sure that stays here when you go!"
As a young guy if you didn't get your hair cut by Larry your social standing plummeted. The barbershop was a public place where someone was bound to see you. The old codgers had their chairs right up front and you'd be seen there reading an old issue of Popular Mechanics about the coming atomic lawnmowers. I think when long hair came into style Larry starved because his clientele were the eighteen and under crowd.
On my paper route I knew the owners of the town's two real estate companies. I went to school with both Keith Arquilla and Jeff Coen and they were friends even though their families were in direct competition. I played in the Little League with Keith Surma whose family ran a chicken restaurant on the edge of town.
In retrospect, we didn't have a single chain restaurant in town. Outside of the Standard Oil gas station and the Ben Franklin dime store all of the businesses were independently owned and the little town was prosperous. There was a McDonalds down on the road near the interstate exit and there was a Burger King over in Chicago Heights.
Fresh out of high school one of my first jobs was at an independent tire store. Most of those are history now, pushed out by the chain stores. I worked for thirteen years for an independent parts distributor; three warehouses and over a hundred independently operated stores and one owner. He was warned that Auto Zone and Pep Boys were coming but he was retiring and left it to his son, and, well, his son was an idiot. My division was sold to another independent company and they were eaten alive by foreign competition. We sold American made industrial engines that were manufactured by independent stand-alone companies.
Their foreign competitors were mega corporations. Fuji Heavy Industries builds everything from railroad cars to jet planes and Subaru automobiles; they also make Robin small engines. Honda, well, what doesn't Honda make? Kubota is one of the largest tractor manufacturers in the world and as their market share increased their discount decreased. As more and more American manufacturers moved overseas or were squeezed out it became harder for American companies to compete. The mega corporations could afford to almost give their products away to gain market share and then to make up the difference on parts and distribution as the discounts dropped from 40 percent to 15 percent.
At 15 percent a small engine shop can't stay afloat and they've all but disappeared, replaced by the big box retailers like Lowe's and Home Depot. Stores where nobody knows anything and nobody works on anything and if you can't find it on the shelf then they don't have it. Industries have sprung up that do nothing but warranty repairs for the retailers and they too are run by corporations who hire mechanics to work on air compressors and lawn mowers and edgers.
Some of them have a football field-sized area of equipment waiting for warranty approval from one corporation to another. Then, once repaired in two or three weeks, delivered back to the big box retailer for pick up. This is not private industry but corporate industry. The corporation takes your money for a product and if it is defective they send it to another corporation to evaluate. Then the first corporation makes the decision to fix it, replace it or return it without apologies.
The huge flat screen TVs have their own repair market, as available parts are almost unheard of. A local company buys defective TVs, the ones that you paid $3,000 for, they buy for $50. Then they either repair them or sell the parts on the Internet. The corporations haven't caught on to that business model yet, but they will and when they do, then it's good night.
So today when you drive through your own home town you'll find a series of fast food restaurants, corporate chains of hair styling salons, corporate workout gyms with fancy logos and paint schemes. Your clothes, from your socks to your underwear, are adorned with corporate logos. You drive in your car listening to corporate radio playing corporate music. Or you listen to talk radio to get corporate opinions on the issues of the day. Your banking is done in a bank too large to fail and your mortgage is held in a place far, far away. They are all too big to fail while you've become too small to survive.