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.”
“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.