The feelings being expressed over the closing of Hi-Lo and the coming of Whole Foods really illustrate that sometimes a business is more than just a business.
While I appreciate as much as anyone how much small business owners struggle and sacrifice to build a successful enterprise, some businesses are bigger than just one entrepreneur. In one deal, we’ve seen one business go down that is part of the cultural fabric of the community, and we can also see how more locally owned food stores are coming under threat from this new giant in their midst.
Considering how traumatic it feels for a community to lose resources like this, I wonder if it’s time to start considering community ownership solutions. Small business owners looking for an exit strategy have many more options than just shuttering their business or selling it to a big corporation.
Businesses can be sold to employees as worker-owned cooperatives. (A special tax advantage exists just for this.) They can explore selling shares in the business to community members at large. Models of this exist, from consumer cooperative models to brand new crowd-sourced methods of public stock offerings. These are ways of embedding much-loved local businesses in the communities that depend on them.
Solutions like this require brain power, a cohesive community, plenty of volunteer labor and adequate funding. If there’s anywhere those things exist, it must be here.