The Mom and Pop Store: How the Unsung Heroes of the American Economy Are Surviving and Thriving

There’s no business like small business in this study of the retail sector.

Growing up in Perth Amboy, N.J., veteran business journalist Spector (The Nordstrom Way to Customer Service Excellence, 2005, etc.) worked with his grandfather, uncle and parents in the family butcher shop. There he learned both the struggles and rewards of running a small business and began a lifelong fascination with independent retailing. Spector saw in his family, quoting Emerson, a "tenacity of purpose." Through passion, persistence and scrupulous honesty the business would succeed in the face of any challenge, from supermarket competition to the economic decline of the neighborhood. He saw that the shop was more than a place to buy meat, but also a neighborhood institution where customers could gossip, joke and feel at home.

With these lessons in mind, Spector set off on a "retail odyssey," traveling around the country—and the world—to document the experiences of other small businesses. Whether it was a grocery store in Los Angeles, a fruit stand in Miami, a tea shop in Tokyo or a hat store in London, the same values of hard work and optimism applied.

The most intriguing parts of the book chronicle the struggle of each business to survive in a retail environment in which small businesses must adapt or fail. After being unable to compete with the big chains, the L.A. grocery store became a specialty store selling hundreds of brands of soda not found anywhere else in the city.

Along the way, Spector interweaves a never-boring history of retailing—the first retail shops were created by the Lydians in present-day Turkey in 650 BCE—and the origins of currency, credit and trade laws.

Lively lessons about business ethics and practices that Fortune 500 companies, the author suggests, would be wise to follow.