Friday, December 10, 2021

It's A Wonderful Life

"No man is a failure who has friends."

I think that applies for businesses too.

It's a bit of a cliche now, but It's a Wonderful Life was a perennial favorite in the Keeler household.  As we got older, it may be that we stayed up a little too late on Christmas Eve to watch it, and we may not have always gotten in a complete viewing, but it was at least started every Christmas Eve.  

It's a Wonderful Life is so cherished in our household, that our Christmas village is Bedford Falls. 

The movie is loved by millions for a lot of different reasons.  For the great performances by Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, and Henry Travers.  The fact that it represents the slight darkening of Capra's ideology following the horrors of what he saw in World War II, but still provides a heartwarming message.  The essence of film blanc.  The truth and simplicity of the message of the film found in truly knowing where ones riches come from.

In our household, it struck a chord for an even more primal reason - my dad saw a lot of himself in George Bailey.

It's fairly easy to see the resemblance.

The oldest son growing up in a family business in a small, idyllic town.  Growing up with dreams of moving on and seeing bigger and better things.  Feeling a sense of obligation to the family business, particularly after the early passing of his father.  The personal cost of having to often save the old building and loan.  Wondering what the other path might have brought.  And being frequently reminded of the blessings that it has afforded.

Yes, It's a Wonderful Life was annual viewing because it served as that yearly pep-talk.  A reminder of why Keeler Enterprises existed in the first place.  You see, my dad shares something else with George Bailey.  A deep and inherent desire to help people, even at personal cost and inconvenience.  Even though the store may have never been what he set out to do in life, it was something he is extraordinarily gifted for.  It gives him the opportunity to talk with people.  To build relationships with them over time.  To meet needs.  To help find just the right thing.  All the best that a small town general store can do.

It allowed him to never meet a stranger.  I can't tell you how often we would run into someone he knew.  Whether we were at Disney World, or on the streets of Georgetown outside Washington, D.C., we ran into someone.  Someone he grew up with, some vendor he know from the store, a fellow Western Auto associate dealer.  It was a small world indeed.

That makes this Christmas season particularly bittersweet.  As I'm sure many of you have read or heard already, after 58 years of service, Keeler Enterprises will end regular store operations December 23, 2021.  

There's no Potter in this story.  No one thing that can be pointed to as the last straw.  Just like the Old Building and Loan, there have been many times before we wondered if that year was the last and things would eventually smooth out or come together.  

Similarly, unlike the movie, there is no one event that has brought this on.  No Uncle Billy losing the deposits.  No, this has been coming for a long time.  The dominance and encroachment of Big Box/Discount retailers.  The rise of online commerce, especially in small rural communities.  The increasing difficulty to find vendors that will even supply a small business anymore.  This had been coming long before the pandemic, and that event only made things more difficult.  Supply chain issues made it even more difficult to stock what could be bought.  

Because this isn't cinema, sometimes the business isn't saved.  It's unlikely that even the Old Building and Loan would have survived the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s and 1990s had it made it that long.  And things are similarly rough for small businesses today.

It's bittersweet, because it is an ending and a beginning.  I know this isn't retirement now for my dad.  He couldn't sit still for that long.  He will find something else to jump into and utilize those same skills of being able to talk to and relate to people and to help meet their need.  We don't know what that will be just yet, but there will be something.  Like any closing, like any transition, we look back on what has come before, and pray for what is ahead in the future.

With that in mind, I have a couple of favors to ask.  One on a more general level, and one quite personal.

On a more general level, if you have any Christmas shopping left to do, please consider shopping small when you can.  I've made this pitch a couple of times through the pandemic and make it consistently on Small Saturday, but as the product of a small family business, I cannot stress the importance.  The Amazons, Wal-Marts, Targets, etc of the world will continue to thrive many years from now.  Yes, they may fall like a Sears, but that will not be anytime soon.  The outlook for a small business can change from year to year, if not month to month.  When you buy from a small business, you're not lining the pockets of the monetarily world's richest man, you're making sure the business owner's kid gets the braces they need.  You're making sure they can keep paying their employees.  So, shop at that small boutique.  Shop from the local mom and pop grocery or general store.  Eat out at a local family restaurant.  You can contribute to a great Christmas for them.

On a more personal level, if you are in town, stop by Keelers and let everyone there know how much you have appreciated them.  I can't tell you what the kind words have already meant.  

The store will be open normal hours until December 23, 2021and is currently celebrating the years with a One Last Christmas Sale, with special savings every day leading to Christmas Customer Appreciation on December 23.  There will be a closeout starting in January through March 2022.   

It would be great for them to see you and to share and reminisce.  To hear your favorite memories of the past 58 years.  And to hear what you will miss the most.  

To truly see the impact that the store and our family has had over this time.

And please, let my dad know it.  Let him know the fond memories you have of my grandfather, my grandmother, my mom, and my dad.  The times the store was there for you, to meet a need, to lend a hand.  If you worked there, stop by and share your memories.

If you are out of the area, post them, share them, message them.  

Let's remind him what we already know.

To Mike Keeler, the richest man in town.

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