Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Norristown's Surviving Small Business

Yesterday I didn't do a Diary entry because I was sitting in the front room of Art and Mark's Auto Repair, waiting for my car to get its annual state inspection, oil change and new wiper blades.

Art and Mark's is on Wood Street, right around the corner from Markley. I like them for a lot of reasons. They don't tell me my car needs more work than it absolutely needs. They don't talk down to women. They have a great sense of humor, from their "Sorry, We're Open" sign to the wall-full of clipped comics about car repair that I could read while I waited. They mail me coupons and reminders. They're not a big, cold, corporate car dealer, but a small mom-and-pop (or, I guess you might call them "pop-and-pop") place who seem to know their customers and care about our community (they support the Patrician Society and Norristown Habitat for Humanity). And they're not far from my house. I can walk home and back on a nice day. (Yesterday wasn't nice, so I stayed.)

I've talked before about whether neighborhood stores can survive without other business near them. I was please to see that Art and Mark's had several customers while I was there. Norristown has many small business auto repair places and for the most part, they seem to be surviving (A & M's have been on Wood St. for over 40 years). Sometimes these shops are connected to a gas station, sometimes not. Most of them are on or near a main route like Markley, Main, Airy or Dekalb, accessible to their neighborhoods as well as the rest of town.

That's the difference, I think. Our planning people talk about how small businesses should be "walkable" and how they don't want to see parking lots, never seeming to realize that if only people within walking distance visited stores, those establishments couldn't sustain themselves. But no one for a moment cares if an auto repair place is walkable. The whole idea is that you drive your car there. They can compete for customers all over the area. Yet, if they're a decent business and good neighbors, people like me within walking distance will patronize them.

Another thing I always hear, both from residents and certain members of council: "This town needs a fill-in-the-blank-chain-store." I've heard all the food possibilities mentioned--Wendy's, Wawa, KFC, Subway, etc. And of course, anything that starts with "Wal-." Their rationale is always that somehow it will boost Norristown's economy. The truth is, it would more likely do the opposite by sending profits out of town (and usually out of state).

I realized yesterday that I never heard anyone say that we need something like a Jiffy-Lube or a Midas or an Advance Auto shop. Maybe we smartened up after seeing that the AutoZone on Main Street didn't do a thing for downtown. Or maybe we just realize that we've got great little auto places here already, who are better for our community.

If you're taking your car to the dealer for non-warranty work like inspections and oil changes, consider trying one of N-town's auto repair places. I can recommend Art and Mark's--I'm sure you can find neighbors or friends who'd recommend others in town (feel free to comment below if you have a favorite--or tell me on Facebook and I'll add your recommendation here).

Give Norristown small businesses your business. We'll all profit.

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