Every morning, I take an hour-long walk around my town. I live in Los Gatos, a quaint, fairly small town at the southern-most end of the Silicon Valley. Los Gatos has an old fashioned Main Street. It is not called Main Street (ironically there is a street called Main Street, but it is not, in fact, the main street). Small shops line either side of the street. Most are small, individually-owned businesses. Though the town does boast a fairly busy Apple store and the entire family of Gap/Banana Republic chain stores.
It is 2011 and, theoretically, the worst of the great recession is behind us. At least, that’s what they keep telling me in the newspapers and on TV. People are returning to work. Companies are boasting high profits. Some have returned to giving out shamefully high bonuses to often undeserving executives. The good times are back, they say!
But as I walk down main street, I see empty shops. More and more empty shops. Not just the recently-shuttered Borders Books (which was, perhaps, the largest store in all of Los Gatos). But lots of the smaller Mom & Pop shops. More and more stores that had been in town for 15 or even 20 years are having to close their doors. Old staples that we came to rely on are now gone. Not able to compete. Not able to pay the rent. Shops are empty. Sure, a couple of new ventures are coming in – but I can already predict that they, too, will be gone within a year.
I know that I’m not telling any tales of woe that haven’t been repeated everywhere in the country and in many places around the world. But watching the continued struggle of the shop owners in my own small town makes me remember that we really aren’t out of this yet. The job numbers may be up, but here in Los Gatos, jobs are being lost as the shop owners are forced to leave or go out of business permanently.
And I am sad. Every time I see another empty storefront, it makes me even more sad.