Updated: June 24, 2013 6:10AM
I’ve heard the phrase, “Small business is the heart of America” all my life. While I’ve always agreed with the statement, spending the last year as a business features reporter has more than driven it home to me.
Since last August, I’ve interviewed an estimated 1,000 people, which include business owners, professionals and consumers, and I have written Business Spotlight articles in the Pioneer Press on roughly 250 businesses all over the North Shore.
Every week, I walk in and out of seven businesses to interview the owners, talk with employees and/or customers.
Each business owner has a personal narrative about how or why he or she got started.
Freddy Sanchez, a Mexican immigrant who came to the states without knowing English and became a famous chef, and the owner of Taco Nano in Northfield.
Kim Bloomberg, a Glencoe jewelry designer whose love of creating jewelry dates back to the jewelry her grandmother, a Holocaust survivor, gave to her.
Betsy Phillips, a Deerfield personal trainer, struggled with weight her whole life, which inspired her to help save the lives of obese men and women.
As I listen, I find them engaging. They are alternately funny, sad, upsetting and even shocking.
Yet, there is a central element that is part of almost every single story: passion.
I interviewed Jane Johnson, a Northbrook caterer who founded her compound butter company, Twisted Butter, and whose products ended up being featured as “The Best Butter” in Rachel Ray’s magazine, EveryDay.
Josef Puehringer is a Glenview glass engraver who came to Chicago from Austria. He has run The Crystal Cave since 1970.
“It’s good for my soul to create, and I feel fulfilled when I do something perfect and the customer is happy,” he said.
Almost every business owner I talk to displays enthusiasm, their faces lighting up with energy when talking about their trade. They have a spirit and a will to succeed. They usually tell me that building their business wasn’t easy, and that drive, determination and passion for what they do contributed to their success.
Small business owners don’t have 9-5 hours. They don’t get sick-days or personal days. They can’t always sneak off to their son’s baseball game or daughter’s ballet recital.
They also play so much more than one role. Bob Klein and Nancy Schultz, the owners of Wilmette’s The Runner’s Edge are salespeople, managers, customer service representatives, buyers, and marketing and PR agents.
I walk out of every interview feeling intensely inspired. When I see the smiles on the faces of the owners, and I feel their sense of pride, enjoyment and fulfillment on their sleeve, it not only motivates me to write a great story, but it gives me a true respect and admiration for a person who started from scratch and made something his or her own.
Small businesses are the heart of America, and they are close to my heart.~.