‘The Mom & Pop Store’

The Bookworm

By Terri Schlichenmeyer

You had something specific in mind to give as a gift this year, but you couldn’t find it. You looked in all the big stores and the usual places around town but you had no luck. Then just as you were about to give up you saw exactly what you wanted in a small shop off the beaten path and you got personal service when you bought it.

Where would we be without local, independent retailers? Robert Spector says we need those merchants now more than ever, and in “The Mom & Pop Store,” he explains why.

When Spector was a child growing up in Perth Amboy, N.J., his father owned a meat market. Every Friday morning, Fred Spector rose before dawn to open a store in a nearby town; Saturday mornings were spent closer to home in an open building where women in babushkas bought food for the week.

Starting after his bar mitzvah, Spector says he was forced to work at Spector’s Meat Market alongside his father, uncles and cousins. He hated it. He couldn’t wait to get away.

But as an adult, Spector says he began noticing independent retailers and “mom and pop stores.” This not only brought forth pleasant memories, but it made him want to explore that which had suddenly become important to him.

As they have been for centuries, mom and pop stores are important parts of their neighborhoods and our economy. They’re a foot in the door for immigrants who want to start a new life in their adopted country. They serve as models of customer service. And because they’re locally owned, they’re usually run by a family with strong ties to the community. In fact, says Spector, “Ninety percent of all U.S. businesses are family owned or controlled.”

So what if you want to become an independent retailer? Own your customers, and do everything possible to make them happy, Spector says. Be known for “insane” customer service. Be willing to work harder than you’ve ever worked in your life. Be flexible and able to change with your clientele and your neighborhood.

“The Mom & Pop Store” is an odd duck of a book. About the first third is biographical, in which Spector muses nostalgically about Perth Amboy and the way it was 50 years ago. He recalls small details of his family’s business, his forebears’ lives and their immigration to America, and his own childhood. That’s interesting, but it’s not why you’d want to read this book.

Where Spector shines is in his interviews with independent retailers from many different kinds of businesses and walks of life, including a third-generation Japanese jeweler, fourth-generation meat marketers and longtime bookstore owners with no prior retail experience.

If you’re a big supporter of small shops and stores, or pondering your own retail endeavor, check this book out. “The Mom & Pop Store” is one to find … locally.

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