Saturday I stopped in to say goodbye to my friend Jose. After five and a half years, he made the difficult decision to close his restaurant, Aripo’s.
It was packed. Tables were full. Jose came out to say a quick hello but couldn’t chat long. He had to make another batch of their specialty masa arepas to keep up with demand. He was “slammed” Friday night, too. Crowds of people coming by to get their last taste of his scrumptious Venezuelan food before he closes for good on November 22.
He is receiving hearty online support as well, with comments bemoaning the loss of this mom-and-pop restaurant in Downtown Oak Park.
If only there were crowds of people last weekend. Or last winter. If only people had been posting and yelping and blogging for years about this Village gem.
My heart goes out to Jose, as I remember living through the same outpouring of love, too little too late, when I closed Great Harvest in 2009 due to lack of business. It is like attending your own funeral. You’ve just made a tremendously hard decision, lost a chunk of your savings, fired your employees and lost your own job as well. And yet, despite your despair, you have to smile and accept the well-wishes from people who can’t believe you are closing even though you secretly can’t remember the last time you saw them in the store.
Sure, there are plenty of regulars who rode the wave with you. But sadly, not enough.
Go ahead and argue that he (or I) didn’t have a good business model, didn’t market enough, didn’t have the same consistency as the chain down the street. But then don’t ask why small independents are a dying breed. Independents start with a competitive disadvantage vis-à-vis corporate-owned or franchise stores. The only path to overcoming that and eventually succeeding is full-on community support.
It takes customer commitment for small business to succeed. Please, if you love a local store, shop there now. Tell your friends. Don’t wait until they are shutting their doors.
this post also appears on the Wednesday Journal / OakPark.com’s blog community (click here)