Small Business Saturday is this weekend. While it ironically started as a marketing campaign for American Express, Small Business Saturday has grown to be much more than that. It is a time to support the thousands of small businesses in Maine that are deeply rooted in our communities and in Maine values.
Maine small businesses are the backbone of our state, making up 99.3 percent of all businesses in our state, and they employ nearly 300,000 workers, roughly 57 percent of all workers in Maine.
Most of us did not start small businesses to get rich. In fact, in 2016 the median Maine small-business owner made just under $42,000 a year. Instead, we started small businesses to do what we love, provide for our families and give back to our communities.
At Paris Autobarn, our small business in South Paris, we service and sell primarily hybrid and electric vehicles. We know that automotive repairs won’t save the world, but through our business we are trying to do our part to make our community a little bit better. We have earned several awards for making our shop more environmentally friendly. We have switched to solar power, efficient heat pumps and LED lighting, and we’re using green oils and lubricants, and greener alternatives for automobiles because we want to do our part to protect our natural resources here in Maine.
We have also long paid our employees a living wage and in 2016 joined the Maine Small Business Coalition and over 600 other Maine small-business owners to help pass Maine’s minimum wage increase. While big business groups predicted that raising the minimum wage would devastate small businesses, the data show that income, hours and employment have all gone up since we raised the minimum wage. Not only did it not hurt small businesses like mine, raising the minimum wage lifted an estimated 10,000 Maine children out of poverty.
Pro-worker policies like increasing wages do not just support our workers and their families. They give those workers disposable income that they can then spend at other small businesses.
Megastores like Walmart and megasites like Amazon may sometimes be able to offer slightly lower prices than local establishments. However, instead of sourcing their products from Maine small businesses and investing their profits in Maine communities, they create an extractive economy. They drive down wages in sweatshops in China and Bangladesh, undercut local mom and pop shops here in Maine, return record profits to the richest people on the planet, and then use those profits to lobby for trillions of dollars in tax breaks that defund crucial programs here in Maine. So while at face value their prices may be slightly lower, they end up costing us all much, much more.
When you support community-rooted small businesses, you help to create a regenerative, local economy that supports the entire community. You support business owners who don’t just see our state as a profit center, but as a home. That is why small-business owners have been at the forefront of advocating for policies like increasing the minimum wage, protecting the environment and expanding Medicaid and access to health care more generally. Maine small-business owners know that our businesses thrive when our communities do, too.
If you’re sick of that guilty feeling ruining your holiday shopping buzz, there’s a solution, or at least a more responsible alternative for holiday consumerism. This Small Business Saturday, support your local small businesses. And make it a practice. Change Small Business Saturday into Small Business Everyday.
Tony Giambro is the owner and chief sustainability officer of Paris Autobarn LLC, in South Paris.