From “Family Business”
By Beth Landau
I grew up working in my parents’ old school mom-and-pop drug store: gleaming glass cases of perfume and inexpensive trinkets and free home delivery service. Several of aisles of over-the-counter medications, beauty supplies, and household goods led to a two-tiered pharmacy counter in the back. My parents scratched out a good living in crumbling Perth Amboy, New Jersey. My dad, Art, was the pharmacist, and my mother, Diane, was the bookkeeper. My brothers and I stocked pharmacy bottles and then shelves before manning the cash register or placing the daily cigarette order. There was no such thing as “not in my job description.” If you could, you did.
Ila Stare, 81, has similar memories from working in her grandfather’s grocery. She was five years old when her grandfather lined up coins and trained her to sell penny candy. Like my brothers and me, she moved from one task to the next, first penny candy, then stock rotation and eventually customer service at the cash register. The skills she learned in her family’s business served her throughout her adult life and through multiple jobs in sales and bookkeeping. When I asked how working for her grandfather influenced who she was as a person and an employee, she talked about pre-school educational benefits, a subject unheard of in 1932. “I was counting back change long before I started school. Today’s kids don’t know how to do that!” she laughs.
When I run into an unskilled cashier or a store employee who seems bothered that I need help, I, too, wonder if the rules of employment I learned working in a family business are outdated. What has become of the staunch work ethic, the feeling responsibility to the business and everyone who works there? It turns out that they are where they have always been: in small family businesses.
Will Klinedinst, 22, was ten years old when he began working in his family’s lemonade, waffles and ice cream business, which has travelled from carnival to carnival for over seventy years. He continues to work there every summer. Although the business is owned by his uncle’ parents, not his immediate family, “everyone in the family” works or worked there at some point. And they work hard, too. No matter the weather, they transport their trailers and stands, set them up, in some cases building structures from the ground up, sell their wares for sixteen hour shifts, and then tear down and remove everything. This is particularly difficult for the employees who have worked for the business for thirty years and still try to keep up with such arduous demands.
Will says it is a wholly different experience than he’s encountered in other jobs. He chuckles as he talks about his stint on the third shift at a local McDonalds. “The comparison is shocking,” he says. Used to working “full throttle the whole time,” Will came to find that the object of the job at McDonalds seemed to be “hiding.” It was every man for himself, and no one felt responsibility to the company or to their coworkers; employees tried to look busy as they did as little as possible. There is no room for laziness in his family business. Will is always aware that if he does not do a particular task, someone else, perhaps someone who isn’t capable of doing it safely, will do it. It is a thought he cannot stand.