The people behind your local small businesses

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Behind the businesses in your community are some of the most interesting, enjoyable, and amazing people you’ll ever meet. Getting to know the person behind the display window of a shop, the inspiration behind a unique restaurant, or the driving force behind an amazing service business will open your eyes, and in many cases, even inspire you.

I think of small businesses as the bedrock of our communities. They’re the hidden engine that keeps the community humming and prosperous. Ayn Rand likened them to Atlas holding the world on their shoulders, and there’s a lot of truth to that.

One of the characteristics of bedrock is that you don’t see it. But you do see the small businesses in your community. You see them every day, don’t you? You walk or drive by them. You shop in them. You ask them to do things for you. You know them pretty well.

But do you really? Do you really know them? Do you even care about them?

Take for example Donut City in Seal Beach California, owned and operated for three decades by John Chan and his wife Stella. John and Stella came to Orange County as refugees from Cambodia in 1979. Since then, they’ve worked side by side every morning to serve donuts at their Pacific Coast Highway shop. They’ve become a fixture and a familiar landmark in the area, and, by the way, their donuts are amazing.

Not long ago, clients began noticing that Stella was missing from the shop. When some of them asked about her, they were shocked to discover she had suffered an aneurysm. She was alive, but weak and in rehab, and she was going to be in rehab for a long time. Every day, John did all the work necessary to keep Donut City humming and its customers happy, and then he rushed home to be with her as soon as the shop sold out of doughnuts.

The regulars expressed their concern and suggested to John that they set up a gofundme page to raise money, but John saw no need for it. He was sure that so long as he kept working at the donut shop they were fine financially. He did express his desire to spend more time with Stella to help her through her long recovery.

Those same regulars weren’t willing to let it go. They decided to do something. Through social media and word of mouth they got the word out that John needed to sell out his donuts early every day so he could return to the rehab center where Stella was recovering. They encouraged people to buy a dozen or so donuts on their way to work in the morning. It worked. The regulars did it, and so did the “semi-regulars.” They began stopping by every morning for a dozen or more for the office. John was often able to shut down as early as 10:00 on some mornings and spend the rest of the day helping his wife.

To John and Stella’s customers, it became more than just buying some donuts. In this time of need, they became friends, who were supporting a great couple and a man who needed to spend time with his wife. And they got to eat great donuts. The customers became the champion and marketing arm, not for Donut City, but for John and Stella. Why? Because that’s what friends do. Talk about a win-win.

You’d be amazed at how many of the businesses that you come in contact with have stories like this behind them. I get to hear these stories from the business owners I coach. They feel the weight of the well being of their employees and their families on their shoulders. They could use the encouragement of someone else coming along and, by word or deed, saying, “Hey, I see you, and I appreciate what you do.”

John and Stella were one of these local small business owners whose faces behind the counter became part of the bedrock of their community. When their time of struggle came, their customers decided to support them in the best way they knew how.

That’s what friends and communities do.

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