Why I Opened A “Made in America" General Store 10 Years Ago.
In 2003, I first started thinking about opening a store selling only products Made in the USA. I had just finished performing in a play adaptation of Barbara Ehrenreich’s book, “NICKEL AND DIMED: On (Not) Getting By in America” at Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago. I learned (as did the audiences) how many people in America had to work two or three jobs to make ends meet. I learned how women had to leave their children unattended and alone because they couldn’t afford daycare. I learned that people were not paid fairly for the hours they worked, often having to punch out and keep working. I learned how these same people had no safety net and an illness or a job loss could send them into homelessness. I also learned that this “race to the bottom” in wages was in part because we offshore most of our manufacturing of consumer goods to countries that pay their workers a fraction of what American companies used to pay their workers in the U.S. In order for our corporations to make money selling these cheap goods, wages had to be depressed and benefits were rare. And none of these jobs that I am talking about are manufacturing jobs;
those jobs were gone and the kind of work available to those
same workers were low paying service jobs.
When the jobs left, the quality of many products left as well and I became frustrated with the quality of goods offered to me. Many things broke or didn’t even function the first time I used them. Screws strip, safety pins bend, shoes don’t fit, toasters start on fire...We used to expect better, consumers demanded it but now in most areas of what we use everyday, we don’t have a choice. We have to buy inferior products and hope they work. Our younger generations don’t even know what there missing,
just throw it away and buy another.
I also wanted to support and celebrate the American worker. Growing up in Chicago, I knew of many products that were made right in my back yard: Radio Flyer Wagons, Schwinn Bicycles, Chicago Cutlery to name a few, plus countless small factories that made almost anything you needed. When I had my wrapping paper business in the 1980's, the colorful cording I purchased was made on Southport Ave. in Chicago, the wrapping paper was printed at a huge plant in Bellwood, IL and the ribbon was made in Long Island City, NY. By 2003, all these businesses had closed or the manufacturing was off-shored. What happened to all the people that
used to work at these three businesses? What has happened to all the people
that worked in all the factories across this land?
Like many people, I like to make things with my hands. It makes me feel good, like I have accomplished something. I am proud that I am able to have an idea, find parts randomly at the hardware store and see it come to life. I am not alone and there is a whole segment of our population that has been put out in the cold because we don’t make things anymore. Even if, in the factory, that person only made one part of the final product, they took pride in their work, pride in the finished product,
hence the label, “Proudly Made in the USA.”
I strongly believe that all nations need to have a strong manufacturing base because, to me, it is the heart and soul of every country. It gives us an identity, a style that is uniquely American or uniquely French, German, Italian or Chinese. I’ve never said to give up importing products, but how exciting it would be if we made things in the United States the whole world wanted because of their
quality, functionality and design!
Great Fact - March 10, 2016 Marriott Hotels the Bethesda, Md. based hospitality giant announced that they had partnered with Standard Textile, which has factories in Thomaston, Ga., and Union, S.C., to produce the towels and bath mats with 100% cotton fiber grown in the USA to supply their United States hotels.
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