Photo Credit: Connie Brown, Brown Cow Ice Cream

Every time it snows, I have flashbacks to eight years ago when I used to own the Great Harvest Bakery in Oak Park.  The anxiety overwhelms me like an Arctic wind.

Will my 4am baker show up to work?  Should we lower production quantities?  Will the landlord shovel the sidewalks before we open?  What about my kids at home enjoying a snow day while I cover for the employee who inevitably calls off work?  Should I even bother?  Maybe I should just close for the day.

Last Friday, a local shopkeeper posted to our business-owner Facebook group, asking who would close during the snowstorm.  Made me cringe.

There’s no “working from home” when you run a brick-and-mortar store.  The doors are either open, or they are closed.  Each day is a guess.  Each season is a gamble deciding what merchandise entices people to make that special trip.  Each employee is an ambassador.  Each customer interaction matters more than you think.

Without a strong manager, you can’t leave the store.  Without sufficient margin, you can’t hire a manager.  Without good merchandise and marketing, you’ll never have sufficient margin.  But you have no time for merchandise or marketing if you don’t have a manager.  And sometimes it snows.

Chamber support systems for independent retailers are evolving, recognizing that traditional in-person programs and networking don’t always resonate.  Our new “Retail Roundtable” affinity group offers brick-and-mortar store owners opportunities to meet experts on relevant topics.  Sessions are videoed for those who cannot attend the presentations.  In March they’ll discuss HR and employment practices (check

This coming Saturday, we are hosting our first Retail Warehouse Sale at the Nineteenth Century Club.  This fun, free event is open to the public, promising steep discounts from twenty local retailers on merchandise that needs to “go” before spring inventory hits the shelves.

Finally, we are focusing more intentionally on issues important to our retailers by posting relevant public meeting schedules on our website, circulating meeting highlights and monitoring the legislative conversation.  All of this information is in our weekly newsletter and on our website.

Small business is hard, especially retail.  And sometimes it snows.  

Join the discussion on social media!

Cathy Yen

Cathy Yen is the Executive Director of the Oak Park River Forest Chamber of Commerce.  She has lived in Oak Park for 21 years and done business locally, first as a retailer and then as a small business...