I opened Superstar Deli, the business I own and run, in 1985, a few years after I immigrated to New York from Ecuador. I’m proud of my 26 years contributing to the local economy and to the character of this community as a small business owner.
But all is not well on Main Street, neither here in Brooklyn nor on Main Streets across America. In recent years, I’ve seen my business decline by 70 percent. Now, I’m on the brink of closing. Small businesses all around me are locked in the same struggle to pay the bills, make payroll and keep our doors open.
So, what should we learn from Occupy Wall Street? We should learn that small businesses, like the Occupy demonstrators, have been shortchanged by the growing inequality that brought on the economic crisis and gave birth to this protest movement. Small businesses, too, are the 99 percent.
Indeed, the growing economic divide has affected small business owners just as much as our customers who are out there protesting in Zuccotti Park. When the few hundred richest Americans control as much wealth as millions of the poorest, that is not good for small businesses. They may be power hungry, but the 1 percent can’t eat enough sandwiches to keep all the delis in New York open. We need the 99 percent.
We should learn that our current challenges are the product of public policies, policies we have the power to change. Today, multi-national corporations are allowed to dodge their taxes to the tune of $100 billion or more a year by hiding profits in off-shore accounts, starving the country of needed revenues while our customers lose jobs and our businesses suffer. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Just like the Occupy movement has galvanized people to action, small business owners need to stand up and be counted if we want to set the country on a new course, a course that levels the playing field for our businesses.
We need to stand up for sensible immigration policies to ensure that the next generation of new Americans and new business owners (like I was in 1985) can pursue their dreams.
We need to stop the big business assaults on basic safeguards that protect the air we breathe and our customers’ pocketbooks.
And we need to expose the “dark money” that moves from corporate treasuries to third party interest groups faster than my neighborhood’s gossip, allowing big corporations to buy elections and shape laws without their fingerprints showing up.
Small business owners have an opportunity and a responsibility to help our elected leaders see through the corporate lobbyists’ agenda to the real people who walk into our stores every day. It is here — in delis like mine across the country — where you’ll find the 99 percent.
Marco Reinoso, owner of Superstar Deli in Brooklyn, New York, serves on the steering committee of [Make the Road New York’s] Small Business United, a local business group affiliated with the Main Street Alliance network.
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