While on vacation a few weeks ago, we had lunch at a unique restaurant just off the beach in Newport, Rhode Island. It is called “Flo’s Clam Shack”. Founded in the 1930s, the building looks as weathered and wind-beaten as the name implies. While there was no sand on the floor that day, there often is, as people saunter in off the beach to enjoy the seafood. Flo had been one of the first to try frying the tasty clams found off New England, and had thus brought a delicious treat to everyone who lived there. As I watched my Ohio born and bred daughter dig into succulent fried clam bellies, and proclaim “I love these!”, I was thrilled that she was discovering my own love of sea food, I, always the geek, also remembered a fact about the economy. Although I am not a macroeconomist, I was reminded of the macroeconomic fact that a large portion of new jobs in our economy are created by small businesses, by “mom and pop” operations similar to Flo’s.
My maternal grandfather was himself a small businessman, starting his business by selling blocks of ice for ice the boxes of the early 20th century. As his name evolved from Giuseppe to Joseph to “Little Joe”, the product he sold morphed from ice to coal to range oil and finally to fuel oil. He was very frugal with his money, but forward thinking in his actions, at one time having several different businesses running under different names at the same time in order to meet the various demands of the time. He worked until the month he died, and I sometimes think that selling his business was what brought on his demise.
His best friend, also named Joseph, died a millionaire, but always lived in a small suburban home not far from the prison known as “Sing Sing”. Although he also worked hard at his endeavors and went on to own a bank, much of his wealth came from his purchase of a swatch of land on a beach in South Carolina. I remember conversations among friends and relatives about this seemingly silly purchase, about how difficult it was to get to the property, with some wondering when they would ever get to visit it. But, by the time he retired from running his bank, large motels were paying him dearly for the “air rights” to build on his beachfront property. Myrtle Beach was by then much more accessible, and they did get to visit it quite often.
And so, as the country recovers from celebrating its 314th birthday last week, I take a minute to salute Joe, Little Joe and, of course, Flo. It is people like you, the entrepreneurs with vision and courage to put those visions into practice, that will rescue this country from the current economic problems we now face. And, along the way, perhaps provide us with the most amazing fried clams that can be found anywhere.