An Historic Small Business

Small Business Saturday Harkens Back to an Every Day Lifestyle for Many

Brinegar Cabin Blue Ridge Parkway

On Saturday, November 28th, American Express will sponsor it’s sixth annual Small Business Saturday. As an entrepreneur with several online ventures, I have been planning my strategy for the day and intend to include the promotion of many other small businesses as part of my campaign.

I grew up “small business.” My father owned an independent propane gas service company, which his father had sold to him when he married. Grandpa Marcoe, a small businessman himself, divided his holdings amongst his children when they wed. The heating oil portion went to the husband of his youngest daughter, and the bar/bowling alley called Van Dyne Lanes to the oldest daughter’s husband(yes, in days back, the daughter’s husband got set up, with the expectation he would manage her welfare wisely). He kept his gasoline dealership for himself.  It was not a gas station as we think of today – instead he delivered gasoline to other garages, gas stations and private individuals who had a gas pump at their farm or residence(as did my father, who had to lock it up tight once his children began getting old enough to drive!).

On my mother’s side, her father was a milk delivery driver, who began his career with a horse-drawn wagon. She loved to make the joke “My daddy was the milkman!”

As a youngster, I was already in the minority by having a father that worked for himself in a small business venture. By the 1970’s, factory jobs were the norm for most in my community and there were several prominent one, such as Giddings and Lewis, Tobin Tool and Die, Mercury Marine and Speedqueen. Amazingly, all these companies are still operating, but I do recall the winnowing years as they pared down to survive as the Great Wave of Importing began washing upon our shores. It was tough for my father as a sole proprietor, but at least he had some semblance of control over his operations.  The factory workers were at the mercy of middle managers and factors beyond their comprehension, much less their ability to manage.

Currently, I am traveling for the winter months, as I do each year when it gets too cold to live in my woodland cabin in upstate New York. I decided to drive down the east side of the Appalachian Mountains, and in particular go through Shenandoah National Park and go the length of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Yesterday, I stopped to visit an historic homestead along the route, the Brinegar Family Cabin. I couldn’t help but to compare my more modern way of living, despite the fact I do live in a log cabin(albeit made from a kit) without plumbing or electricity. Whereas they had fireplaces in both rooms of the house to heat during cold months, I use a portable propane heater to warm things up before heading to bed and when waking up.  But unlike the Brinegars, I abandon ship once the weather actually begins to turn cold!

The Brinegars built a root cellar and spring house to keep their perishable foods, and though I refuse to purchase ice for my cooler, I am able to make trips to town easily enough that I need only keep food for a few days. The Brinegars used an outhouse and bathed in the cold spring, and I – well, some things don’t change!

But the thing that touched me during my visit to the Brinegar Farm, was to find out that Mister Brinegar, along with farming his 125 acres, made shoes for neighbors and nearby townsfolk, as well as acted as a notary public.

Brinegar FamilyBrenigar Family InformationBrenigar Family Information

Even in a lifestyle where so very much was done on one’s own, there remained some things one wanted or needed money for. Shoemaking obviously helped Mister Brinegar to bring in those funds. In that respect, he operated a small business. It may not have been as formally organized as our small businesses of today, but no doubt he fulfilled the needs of those who sought him out and did his best to satisfy them – hallmarks of any small businessperson with a desire to succeed.

On the other hand, maybe he just found joy in making shoes! I can certainly understand that.  It’s why, after four years and with sales not yet reached $1000, I keep buying beads to work on things for my Talisman Too shop! Part of having a small business is the ability to keep blowing oxygen at the coals, hoping at some point for ignition. For me, that would mean that I could count on the business to sustain me economically.  Until then, I have other ventures, including working at the Mohonk Preserve half year, to keep me fed and clothed…and buying beads like these below, which I found at Strand Beads in Boone, NC.

Czech Glass Beads to be Made into Earrings and Bracelets for Talisman Too CollectionsHere’s one pair of earrings I put together with some of the beads yesterday.

Czech Glass Earrings in Nature Tones Boho StyleI know I ramble as I type, but am told that this sort of wandering is part of the charms of my writing. The thing I am trying to convey is that small business has been a part of our world’s culture long before the age of industrialization.  I wonder just when it was that the first small businesses came into being?

So – to wrap things up – here’s my wishes for a strong Small Business Saturday to entrepreneurs in the US this year. Do you have a small business?  Feel completely free to post a link in the comments, along with a promotional bit!