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Small Biz Kicks Butt in North Center

coles neon sign by pixeljones
An arty view of Cole's sign via by pixeljones

From a furniture and appliance store that’s been open for 65 years, to a pet boutique that just had its four year anniversary in December, the 47th Ward’s North Center is a community full of family-owned businesses giving residents a corporate alternative and a chance to see the face of the man behind the brand.

For too long big business and the corporate world have thrived on monopolistic environments where consumers are concerned.

As Milton Friedman said in his book “Capitalism and Freedom,” economic freedom is a precondition for political freedom. In North Center residents are enjoying a flashback to the time of predominately family-owned and run business, giving them a glimpse into a different kind of American economics.

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, small businesses employ over half of America’s private sector and have the ability to create new jobs in an economy that could sorely use them.

“Everyone knows an $8 an hour employee is not going to give you the service that you need, they are going to make you promises that they can’t keep,” said Kevin Krasney, speaking to the many workers who work for minimum wage for corporate establishments.

Krasney is the vice president of Cole’s Appliance and Furniture Company in North Center. Cole’s has been in the Krasney family since 1946 and claims to have about 75 percent customer loyalty and a regular influx of new customers.

“We just stay in business by giving our customers the best prices and just being honest and running a good business,” Krasney said.

Krasney said residents tend to return to businesses where there is a responsible, reliable name they know and can trust.

“That’s mostly what our clientele is,” Brianna Dumont, General Manager of Zulu Pet Boutique, said about returning customers.

Despite the competition of corporate businesses like CVS and Starbucks that have moved into North Center, the locally- owned companies are thriving.

“I love the competition,” said Ghensyem Parekh, 47, owner and sole employee of the Lucky Mini-Mart where he has been conducting business every day for the last thirteen years.

Tough economic times can even provide a source of boosting business in some cases of North Center.

“Low-end entertainment can survive a down economy” said Bob Kuhn, owner of Timber Lanes Bowling Alley, where a cheap and fun family activity has been a highlight in North Center.

Despite the success of these small businesses, Chicago has been buzzing with the news of an incoming Wal-Mart. However, a study conducted by the University of Chicago’s David Merriman and the Loyola Center of Urban Research and Learning says that the big box giant is going to be a failure in the city.

“What we’re seeing here is that placing a Wal-Mart in an urban setting is basically a wash in terms of sales revenue for the city and jobs for local residents,” said Merriman.

According to the study, the corporate stores like Wal-Mart often put so many mom and pop stores out of business that the jobs they create are cancelled out.

Residents and people who work in North Center feel good about spending their money when they can know exactly where it goes.

Jessica Miller says she “absolutely” feels good about spending her money at a business with a local owner.

“It’s a lot cheaper around here,” said Miller of the local North Center businesses.

“I think there’s a lot to do and places you wouldn’t think of,” said Claire Bossert, 23, of North Center’s business attractions.

Not all residents find it as easy to shop locally.

“I try to go to smaller places but they don’t seem to be around as much so it’s just one of those things whatever’s most convenient” said Javier Ramos, 27.

“People are getting more excited to buy local, so hopefully it brings it back to the way it used to be from sixty years ago when everyone owned small businesses when it wasn’t a monopoly of one business owning everybody,” said Kevin Krasney.

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