This morning I want to tell you another little story about an important person in my life. For anonimity purposes, we'll call her "Mrs. Smith", and she is a local gas station/convenience store owner. Mrs. Smith is an amazing person, and let me tell you why. She moved into my north Seattle neighborhood and took on an old dead Texaco store front that no one had wanted or cared about for more than 15 years. Though we in the neighborhood had been crying for some sort of gas station to come back to that spot, as the only other stations around were across Aurora or at least 5 miles away down to 155th. It may not seem far, but when you consider how many of us have to get our kids to school and then zoom off to work in the mornings, the convenience of saving 15 to 20 minutes make a GREAT difference.
So one day the old Texaco started to transform, and everyone took notice (especially the man who owns the 711 franchise on the same plot), and within less than a month - we had a brand new teal and white Valero convenience and gas station opening up. Now on this date, she's been there for over a year and although she's struggling, the gas station is doing very well - nearly eclipsing the popular 711 in everything but high schooler sales (I guess they prefer 711? lol).
In any case, against several odds, Mrs. Smith took on one of the greatest challenges a person can take on - opening a new and necessary business in a neighborhood still on the decline in population. You see, our quaint little neighborhood was hit big by the baby boom, but the echo boomers have pretty much fled, and the pre-boomer generation has most left this earth or moved to various care facilities - which only leaves behind the urban families and singles that took over their family homes (like myself) or moved here because of the small location near the big cities. And we have had plenty of new residents moving into the area, but with the fall of the baby boom, there just aren't enough people migrating into the area to keep up economic value that we once had.
On top of all that, many of the people whom have been her for a very long time, aren't even out for their own well being and greater good - which results in a domino effect happening where ever these people go. I've met many of them, more than I can count on both hands at least, and none of them are bad people or inherently negative - they just simply aren't aware. They live hour by hour, not stopping to contemplate where they will go, who they will meet or how their actions today will affect them tomorrow. It is a lot of these people who end up not having any money when they need resources like food - which leads them into Mrs. Smith's store, because she has a reputation for her generosity and willingness to trust. She is more than willing to give anyone a chance, even though time after time she has been slighted by those "sleep walkers" who go through life taking without accepting the consequences.
Anyways, what led me to these thoughts, was a conversation I was having with Mrs. Lee about how many people not only come in and ask for help without paying her back, but how many people just simply avoid her all together when they can't pay her back. During our conversation, we both agreed that times are tough, especially in this economy, and it's not going to get better for a while - but one of the worst things we can do is screw each other over and then pretend nothing happened. There are plenty of well-meaning souls around, all of whom manage to at least keep in touch with those they owe, even though it sucks not being able to say they can do anything at the time. Simply courtesy's mean the most when everyone is hurting.
And I know from being on both sides of the fence, that while it seems innocent enough to let a bill slip, it very much effects other human beings, and then creates a trickle down effect, essentially taking food from the tables of thousands, where it seemed like it might have only been one. And isn't taking food from your own table bad enough?
The conversation about bad business and cranky customers, soon turned to a conversation about city utilities, whom are far from the hero's of this tale, and we talked about how the bigger companies don't just pick on individual people, they pick on small businesses too, which makes it difficult to open up needed jobs in those businesses, that could employ someone who will otherwise have to wait for the waiting lists of welfare and assistance programs. Aside from the high prices associated with the ways in which we currently create electricity and keep our water clean, they also find ways to nickle and dime each business (and resident!) with a $35 charge here, a $45 visit there or an extra "tax" or "fee" to help with "this" or "that". All this would be fine if it were in the name of quality service, but it just isn't. The prices we are paying for necessary services, are rising as if we were still in the baby boomer era, while the ability to pay for those services is dropping along with birth rates - which means that the cost of living - of having services like heat and electricity and housing - are still rising while our salaries are dropping....
All that hot angry air floating around, got me to thinking. Isn't there some way that we can help small businesses out? The small biz's that help single mothers in need of food for their kids, when the food stamps aren't enough - the small biz's that offer work to those in need, even when they can't afford it - the small biz's that are part of our communities, whom could make a bigger difference, is their resources weren't also being tapped - they need help as much as so many families and individuals do. I know there has to be a way that we can start putting the power back into communities again.
So, while I'm not sure what the right direction to go is - and I AM asking for your input - here are some ideas that have been taking over most of my thoughts - let me know if you think any of these ideas could use some improvement, or if you know of the right direction to start making them happen.
Initially, my first thought was that it would be nice to fix the "power" issue. Just about every major city has an electricity monopoly that can't be rivaled, which leaves no room for competition and really no way to provide for those that need help. I know it doesn't seem like it would be a large change at first glance, but even saving a few hundred dollars - could be put towards hiring someone in the neighborhood, with a family to feed.
So I started to think about all the form of alternative energy that the world has been working on, and what sort of ways that might be of benefit to these small community businesses. Solar Energy seems like an obvious answer, as it's the cheapest and most readily available option. Though here in north Seattle, where the sky is consistently cloudy - I'm not so sure that solar panel's alone would be enough to provide power for even the smallest of small businesses.
So then my mind pondered adding Wind Power to that scenario. Using the convenience store I was talking about earlier - as an example, there's more than enough space to encompass the roof with at least ten 20-40 foot tall wind mills, which could harness the power of our powerful wind storms and regular breezes, especially if they were able to be automatically rotated to catch the best winds possible at all times of the day. The use of the electricity to "hone in" the mills would be miniscule in comparison to the power they could generate on most days in this neighborhood.
Still, there are so many more resources available, and with rumors going around that if you can harness alternative energy correctly, you can actually send electricity BACK to the electric company, I want to make sure I've done a thorough job of considering all possibilities, before starting the draft of a strategy. So I started looking into more Hydropower, which is the main source of electricity to Seattle (that I'm aware of), and seems the most relevant in a city where it rains all the time. This was actually a fun idea, because you'd have to imagine a way to collect the water, then have some form of kinetic device that could use that water to create and harness electricity. I don't know about you, but the first thing that pops into my mind is a Water Wheel.
Though in my eccentric mind, that Water Wheel would have to also have large fan blades to capture some of the strength of the wind, and it would have to have some way for the water to go downhill and then back up and around so that it could be recycled. This thought gives way to numerous interesting and community benefiting water landscapes for small businesses, complete with converted rain gutters, motes, bridges and clean water accesses.
And then there are Geo-Thermal options, some of which I've contemplated with others on the TED forums, where such things as the Heat or Cold from concrete, asphalt and bricks could be harnessed and turned into electricity. Now, I'm not completely clear on the science of how that works exactly, though I do know that if small businesses could use their own parking lots to generate electricity for their businesses, they could be self-sustaining, which would allow them to prosper and give more to the communities they're part of.
There are lots of options, many that I'm not yet aware of and that YOU might already know about.
So now I leave the call of action to you - leave me your comments, additions, corrections or insights - if we can find a way to get the conversation started, about how to help small businesses, we can then tackle the even bigger issue - how to help end homelessness and unemployment.