I grew up in a very historical little village in upstate New York. My parents were the grocers in town. They generally worked 777…that's 7am to 7pm seven days a week. Their biggest income year would have placed their earnings at somewhere just north of $9 an hour in today’s dollars. They toiled at their trade for over 30 years; with my mother carrying on after my father’s passing.
I remember the phone ringing one evening near 11pm. “Helen (my mother’s name), I don’t have milk for the kids for breakfast, would it be too much trouble for you to open the store?” I watched my mom get redressed and head off to open the store for a $2 sale on which she would have made about 10 cents.
My parents store was, at times, the town coffee shop, community center, telephone booth and babysitting service. On the side, my mother also owned an antique business in partnership with her sister. The Valley View Antique shop started in an old chicken house in our backyard and ultimately was moved next to my parents grocery store in what is known as "The Gilbert Block (photo above). It was run daily by my grandmother, who continued to work every day until she was in her late 80s. My mother could often be found selling her wares at antique shows and flea markets on the weekend. My father was always selling something door to door; be it shoes, greeting cards or candy. On several occasions, when times were really tough, my father would take a hated factory job to make ends meet. When Webster searched for an example of the word “frugal,” my parents and grandparents were on the short list.
Literally starting with the money in their pockets, my parents built a business that worked for them. They raised 5 productive kids, purchased and maintained a modest home, supported a community and, while never really being close to “middle class” economically, led a highly independent life. When you own a grocery store, you never starve. My mother ultimately sold her small store at age 62 for enough on which to fund a reasonable retirement when combined with her SSI and her penny-pinching persona (she then became a "professional" gambler…but that's another story).
From my parents and grandparents, I learned how to work. And I learned that it isn’t just what you do during business hours that makes the difference; but what you do when everyone else isn’t and when most others won't. I learned the concept of WOW service from my parents.
“Work Hard and Smart. Success is not from 9 to 5, but from 5 to 9.”