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Local Merchants Divided on Obama's July 13 Speech

Some merchants disagree, others agree with the president, but others want to keep their politics out of business.

Local merchants have conflicting views about President Barack Obama’s July 13 speech in Virginia, in which he told small businesses they didn’t succeed on their own — that they received help along the way.

The reactions expressed this week to St. Charles Patch and Geneva Patch represented a mix of outright support for the president’s remarks and carefully worded disagreement.

“It was ill-considered and wrong-headed,” said David Lencioni, president of the , 300 S. 2nd St., in downtown St. Charles. He was among a few who were willing to talk to Patch this week. But he weighed his words carefully before speaking. “I think what he said was very revealing.

“But I don’t want to use what he said to make any judgments on him or his presidency,” Lencioni continued. “People need to decide that for themselves. (But) I believe his remarks reflect on his feelings.”

From Obama’s speech, several sentences were singled out by critics: “Look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help ... If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”

Quote Taken Out of Context

“More and more often, people are taking things to an extreme. The fact is, we all take for grated the things that help our businesses run. If we were to sit down and enumerate all the people who help our business, it’s more than you’d care to count,” said Mike Simon, owner of The Little Traveler in Geneva. He said he believes the president's words were criticized out of context.

“(‘Somebody else made that happen’) — That’s the attention-grabbing headline, but it’s all the things that came after that quote that put it into perspective,” Simon said. “Just taking that as a single quote doesn’t do it justice. His overall thought is that the whole is greater is than the sum of the parts.”

“To my mind all he was doing is rephrasing John Dunn’s famous quote that ‘no man is an island,’ ” Simon said. “And I’m with him 100 percent on that.

“Long before the president said what he said, I’ve said that if we were to try to run our business in any place besides Geneva, we couldn’t do it because of the support we’ve received from the community, the mentality of Geneva city fathers and of the people with the Chamber of Commerce — that’s what makes us successful.

“I’m just grateful that Kate Raftery (founder of The Little Traveler) happened to pluck her store down at such an amazing place. So much of our business is based on tourism and festivals. And when you look at tourism and what the city fathers and state do for us — as the president alluded to — you have to appreciate all all the things they do that make it easy for me to do business. So much of what brings people to Geneva is based on the festivals, and the unsung heroes are the people from the city — the Streets Department, and Electric Department and Police Department — and all the things aldermen do to make it easy for the Chamber and businesses to create a welcoming atmosphere.”

Outright Disagreement

“Z” Harmon, the owner of , 1 W. Illinois St., also in downtown St. Charles, said she’s read Obama’s remarks in the Wall Street journal and was not impressed.

From her perspective, government can be an impediment to her business — another obstacle to overcome as she strives to succeed.

“Probably the worst thing for sure is they keep upping the tobacco products taxes in Illinois for sure,” she said. “Then of course Obama signed the federal excise tax … so we get impacted in a huge way by the taxes that they legislated.”

Harmon said she has never applied for nor received assistance from the government for her business, and she doubts either of the two prior owners did, either.

She said she wonders about those who defend the president’s remarks as being taken out of context, largely because it seems she has heard that statement a lot about other things Obama has said. “For as good an orator as he is … you would think he would be more careful about the words he chooses. But it’s always an afterthought. … That’s how it comes across to me.”

There is difficulty gauging reaction to the president's speech — some local merchants don't want to put their politics out for public consumption, and there is good reason for that: The number of Democrats in Kane County, long a solidly Republican territory, has been on the upswing for years. At least one merchant expressed fear that if he expressed publicly his strong disagreement with Obama, he might lose some valued customers as a result.

Considering the nation’s economic stability over the past five years, he said, keeping your mouth shut is about politics is just good business sense.

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Mark Hoffman August 08, 2012 at 08:57 PM
For the President to say "you did not build that" whether it is taken out of context or not demonstrates that he has never struggled in a small business environment or ever had to "make ends meet". I understand his point about others (meaning government) helping lay the framework for success except that he doesnt seem to recognize that the government "helped" based on the needs and wants of American individuals and businesses and with the taxes paid by small business and the middle class. When you consider this, the "somebody else" he refers to is in fact those of us who actually did build our businesses and pay our taxes! He makes it sound like govt is some benevolent uncle. Further, isnt a thriving environment, good transportaion and communication systems, and the infrastructure provided by govt agencies a minimum expectation given the taxes we pay, the jobs we provide and the support we give our communities? We may not have built all that but our taxes certainly paid for it! It isnt about politics as much as it is about a President who is completely out of touch with those who are the backbone of our way of life. And I think he insulted every Amercian who has struggled and worked to achieve the American dream. Finally, if he was "taken out of context" or "mis-spoke" or was "misunderstood" or whatever words you want to use, I think it would have been a very Presidential gesture to clarify what he meant, if he did actually mean something other than what he said.
Brian Drye August 09, 2012 at 02:34 PM
Obama has it backwards! Our Government owes its existence to the people of this great land. The framers of our constitution stated "of the People, for the People, and by the People". As a constitutional "expert" Barry should know that government is a tool that the people created for the "pursuit of happiness". If a student writes an A+ term paper, and did some of his or her research at the library, are we saying the library is responsible for that A+. This country is made up of rugged individuals, and when we try to minimize personal accomplishments then we are only challenging society to be the status quo, or less than average. Government was never meant to be the center of American society giving a leg up to everyone with an idea. Some businesses fail because they just didn’t have a good idea, or did not follow good business practices to begin with. Any good coach will tell you that a team becomes great when each individual puts out their best effort, when they compete against each other at full speed in practice and in the game. But if the coach were to walk Johnny, or throw him soft pitches so he gets on base every day in practice, he'll never get a hit in the game. Obama's been throwing soft pitches to the "Green" energy companies, and the companies that he has a vested interest in. Government shouldn’t decide what companies succeed or fail. If we want out of this recession we need to do it as individuals and the government needs to get out of the way.

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