The Mom & Pop Store: True Stories from the Heart of America

by Robert Spector

Paperback, 2010




Walker Books (2010), Edition: Reprint, 304 pages


Business journalist Spector celebrates the history of small, independent retail stores and how mom and pop businesses across the country still thrive on attentive customer service and community support.

User reviews

LibraryThing member ToTheWest
Robert Spector has written a homage to the small, family-owned business -- the type rooted in the American psyche and as iconic as a Norman Rockwell illustration. Spector hopes to combat the notion that the family store is, much like The Saturay Evening Post, fading from the contemporary scene.

The book, part memoir of the author's childhood at the family butchershop, part tribute to others family-owned businesses, Spector seeks to make the case that family shops aren't leaving the retail landscape. He does this with varying degrees of success: the profiles of business owners and their family members are heart-warming and interesting, but he also makes claims that are not supported by evidence. I can't say he's wrong when he talks about the unique characteristics family-owned businesses, such as old-fashioned values of hard work and community. Yet he doesn't have any other evidence but anecdotes to support him.

These negatives could be more easily dismissed if Spector were a better writer. He's not a hack, by any means, and his background as a journalist shows. However, the prose bridging profiles can sound forced.

Still, I enjoyed reading the stories of Mom and Pop stores around the country and Spector chose businesses from a broad spectrum of types. I'd recommened this book to those interested in business. However, readers should not expect hard data or dazzling prose. What they will get are engaging stories told in a straightforward style.
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LibraryThing member sashzj
This book was enjoyable read, but could have been more powerful with a few more facts and figures to give the stories some context. The case studies were interesting and rich, but without knowing how they fit into the bigger picture and whether or not they were truly representative of mom and pop stores, they were easily forgettable and all began to blend together by the end of the book. Despite this though, the book was a good way for people without much knowledge about business and the economy to learn about this important facet of industry.… (more)
LibraryThing member WTHarvey
"Small businesses account for about 50% of the private GDP of the US and create, on average, about two thirds of new jobs annually."

Robert Spector interviews perhaps 50 owners of mom & pop stores and draws heavily from his own experiences as a third generation family store owner. Story after story paints a picture of the owner as self-reliant, hard-working, independent, passionate and inventive. The aim of this book is not to 'take on' big box retailers but simply to show how mom & pop stores get in your blood.

Will mom & pop stores maintain their place in the community? Peter Drucker suggests we predict the future by creating it. Darwin suggests that survival depends on our ability to adapt to change. Small business forces it's owners to be creative and thereby gives them the foresight to adapt to changes in the economic road ahead of them. Sounds like a winning plan.
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LibraryThing member woolenough
"The Mom and Pop Store" has something for everyone. It is: a passionate defense of small family businesses; a history of the retail merchant from ancient times to the present; a trip down memory lane; a celebration of the contributions of new immigrants to the melting pot that is the USA; and – most interesting of all – an exploration of how a variety of small businesses have contrived to adapt to a changing environment that includes big box stores, the Internet, gentrified neighborhoods, and more.

Any reader looking for a calm and rational analysis of the place of small family businesses in our economy will be disappointed. This book is highly anecdotal. Robert Spector begins with his youth in the family butcher shop in Perth Amboy, New Jersey and ends with a walk through his current Seattle neighborhood. In between, he profiles a myriad of small stores around the country – and the world – pausing occasionally to dredge up a bit of retail history or to reminisce about some aspect of his grandfather's shop.

It's true, the author does ramble a bit. But that's part of the charm. Concise? Well, no. Analytical? Uh, no, not that either. But fascinating, charming, and totally convincing? Absolutely yes!
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LibraryThing member Othemts
This Library Thing Early Reviewers free advance review book is a tribute to independent business. Through historical discussion – including the business of the author’s own family – and through case studies of independent shops around the country the author tells the story of the success and importance of “mom & pop stores.” Spector’s writing is an unabashed booster but despite his unbiased approach it remains convincing. Spector also isn’t the best writer, but many of the stories of the individuals, families, and groups who go into business on their own are inspiring.… (more)
LibraryThing member bezoar44
This book blends practical social anthropology with family history. I work for a nonprofit as an environmental advocate; few of my close friends are entrepreneurs, and I've wanted to get a better sense of how the world looks from the perspective of a small business owner. This book met that need well. On the other hand, I wouldn't rely on this book for an objective analysis of how small businesses compete or are likely to fare in the future. Despite a fair amount of bluff rhetoric throughout the book to the effect that small businesses are the heart of the economy, the last chapter attempts to persuade readers to support local independent businesses to help keep them around.

It seems to me that this book would have a limited natural audience, and I've puzzled over Spector's motivation in writing it. I haven't read his other books, including Category Killers, about (mostly) big box chains; or The Nordstrom Way, about (big) business models built around high quality customer service. But I'm guessing that this book makes the most sense as Spector's effort to reconcile the career he's built writing about big businesses with the small business values he learned in his family's butcher shop. The result is a kind of extended personal essay, with all the pleasures and limits of that genre.
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LibraryThing member horacewimsey
A very good--and personal--look at small business in America. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy; Wal-Mart, you will remember, started as an independently-owned dime store. It's nice to be able to buy cheap goods at the big box stores, but for those special things and the personal service, the mom-and-pop store can't be beat.… (more)
LibraryThing member jabberwockiness
This is a book that attempts to persuade its audience through anecdotes, not facts. However, the anecdotes are interesting nonetheless. I enjoyed reading it, and I would recommend it to anyone looking to read a book that's more along the lines of a personal essay than one that's based its scientific findings in statistics and numbers.… (more)
LibraryThing member cjcombs
At first, I had a hard time getting into this book. It opens as a tribute to the author's family butcher business back in Perth Amboy, NJ, so it begins in an autobiographical vein. Then there is a shift, as Mr. Spector adds a history of small, family-owned, Mom & Pop businesses. Finally, there is another shift, into a series of anecdotes and short case studies of Mom & Pop businesses, primarily in the United States, but extending to London and Toyko. It was at this point that I found myself absorbed by the book, with short but charming biographies of these businesses and there founders or owners.

This is not a business book in the traditional sense of the term. It is not filled with many facts and figures (although there are some), nor is there a blueprint of how to successfully establish a Mom & Pop store. Although Mr. Spector alludes to the current economic conditions, the theses of the book do not center on surviving or thriving in these difficult economic times.

No, the main lessons espoused by these Mom & Pop businesses are probably familiar ones - provide good customer service, support the local community, create a space where people want to gather and interact. His interviews span the gamut - from diners and restaurants, to florists, to groceries, to book stores - even a carpet installation business and jewelry repair shop.

In the end, I recommend this book. It is well-written in an easy-going style. Most of the anecdotes are in 2-5 page pieces, so they are easy to digest. It was fun to read about the history of the family that began the business or acquired it, and how they transformed the store over time or met challenges along the way. In short, it's a nostalgic look at these Mom & Pop stores, and what we stand to lose if they lose our communities' support.

(I received a free copy of this book through the Early Reviewer program)
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LibraryThing member rivkat
Free LibraryThing Early Reviewer book. Spector grew up working for the family butcher shop, and so the topic of the small business is close to his heart. The book is a celebration of the community values and hard work of mom & pop stores (or mom & mom, or father & son, etc.), but it is pretty shallow, skipping from business to business and sometimes even from country to country with sweet stories but little analysis. People work hard and change the store to survive; they get help from loyal customers who appreciate the detailed knowledge and service the small store can provide. Spector brushes up against the topic of failure, but it would have been a better book if it had attempted to distinguish success stories from failures, because in the end I don’t really know why these businesses thrived/continue to thrive—I don’t know how hard the failures worked or how much individualized service they provided.

Though Spector assumes (and says a couple of times) that small businesses have to deliver better quality to survive, and complains about the red tape that makes it hard for small businesses to compete, he doesn’t do much to prove the existence of that quality as a general rule. In fact, one of the small businesses in his family’s history was selling fake honey at a farmer’s market, sugar and water and coloring mixed together and labeled as the product of bees. It’s not that I think that Wal-Mart’s suppliers wouldn’t do that too if they could get away with it; I’m sure they would and even do. But there are reasons that red tape developed, and it’s kind of odd to say that small businesses have to be honest or they’ll go out of business—trusting the free market—and then also not like massive chains which are themselves products of the relatively free market/consumer choices. (Though he does make the good point that once a business gets big it can buy itself favorable treatment, which is a political problem and possibly a reason to like mom & pop stores regardless of whether you think they directly offer better products and services.)
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LibraryThing member TrailOfLeaves
I requested this book because i had a feeling it would remind me of the store my brother and i had a few years back and all the memories that store brought into our lives. This book does not dissapoint! i love the rich histories and life stories of the entrepreneurs and their families, the love and passion they have for their high quality product and the connections they cultivate and maintain in their communities is just great to read about. I'd love to go on a fantasy tour of all these places and taste the love & passion that goes into building a business from nothing and putting everything you have to make it work, it's just inspiring! highly recommend it!… (more)
LibraryThing member nscocozzo
This book has been an enjoyable read. I was expecting a book discussing the economics and the quantitative effect of mom & pop businesses on the American economy. There was probably a paragraph or two on that in the back of the book. What the purpose of this book is to serve as a part-memoir/part-review of the life of mom & pop businesses. On that level the book is quite a joy. The ancedotes of small business owners that also serve as community pillars are very enjoyable and inspiring. If one is thinking of going out on their own, this would be a good book to read since the stories serve as a gut check of whether you are ready for all of the work involved to get that business off the ground.

Starting from the author's experience in his father's shop, to the tales of mom & pop's across the country (including my hometown), and ending at his current home, the reader is taken on a stream of memories of how business gets down when you work for yourself. Beyond that overall sense of order, the author focuses on certain topics make his point about the work, freedom, and ingenuity of these business owners. There is a bit of jumping around and returning back to previous players in his narrative, but it is part of the interconnectedness that the author is trying to show of these businesses in their communities.

The concept of the mom & pop business is somewhat romaniticized, but the full discussion and details of the work and effort to make all of that work does bring a very good dose of reality to the picture. I believe the author knows this and he strived to show the real picture.

If you care about that small business down the street, considering opening up one yourself, or looking for good stories and ancedotes about the good ol' mom & pop, this would be a good book for you.
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LibraryThing member jxn
When I picked up this book, I was certainly expecting something else--the subtitle "how the unsung heroes of the American economy are surving and thriving" led me to believe that I would learn some of the innovation, the techniques, and the charms that some members of the small business world have embraced. I expected facts, numbers, and perhaps even an exposé of sorts.

Spector's book is altogether different. The author hardly delves into numbers and strategies, confining himself to memoirs and a description of the characteristics of the successful small business owner. Unfortunately, many of these characteristics are those already ubiquitously and vaguely present in platitudes of the labor and small business management force, and they are fleshed out only with anecdotes which barely add any sense or meaning to prevailing platitudes. The author singles out characteristics like hard-work, dedication, belief that one is doing something special, and the like. Many of the examples seem to make the rules problematic (one example I recall, is the author's emphasis that his father was a master of customer service because he fetched baggage-laden patron a ride home, yet a few pages before the author extolled the shrewdness of his father when he refused customer requests not to be sold the ends of sausages because that's where the money was made--which sounds like poor customer service to me), and as far as I can tell Spector never sorted out the problems or characteristics of success in any manner that was coherent and meaningful. So this is not a how-to book, nor is it a very solid examination of any phenomena in small businesses.

If you look at the book as a memoir, though, there is a much greater charm in it. Spector's style is journalistic and quick to read, and he does a decent job of developing a few personal and anecdotal themes in the lives of people who own businesses. It is, perhaps, a good record of their thoughts and the author's memories, and that may be enough for some readers. There remain, though, some issues of editing and organization. Often the author mentions points that have--at the very most--some vaguely, ancilliarily relevant bearing on a context, but otherwise seem unnecessary. An editor really should have cut these out to make the work smaller (or in favor of some more relevant information), and more pleasant to read. There were a couple of points where I simply laughed out loud, wondering how bits made it into the final edition. Here's one flagrant example from the earlier part of the book, which tells a vignette about how a small business owner in the author's hometown acquired his shop:
"Rey told me his story across the street from Copa de Oro at a Dominican restaurant called El Monumento, where the waitress greeted him warmly, and then brought us ssome coffee--its bitter taste cut by milk--in Styrofoam cups. Rey cautioned me that the coffee was very hot. He was right."
None of this seems to have any bearing on the ensuing conversation concerning Rey's business. I would have rather learned more about that story (how did Rey transition into the business world after having accidentally purchased the place? How is he faring now? What challanges did he face? etc.) rather than get a confirmation that the coffee, though milk was added, was hot.

Additionally, a good edit should have taken out much of the repetition, which is a bit much by the end of the book. I should also very much have liked to see a better explanation of specific problems faced by owners and how they dealt with conflicting needs and adversity, even if this was dealt with in an anecdotal manner.

To quickly sum up, it might be a good read if you are interested in a memoir with some reflections on the businesses of others, but even then the work should have undergone a more stringent edit to make the reading more enjoyable.
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LibraryThing member jsewvello
Ninety percent of all U.S. businesses are family owned or controlled. This book is an inspiration for anyone who is running a small business, or who knows someone who is. The author tries to show how mom and pop stores have influenced cities and communities and why their success is so important for individuals, the communities, and the economy in general. After reading this book I have a greater respect for those who devote so much time and energy into owning their own business.… (more)
LibraryThing member cissa
This is an excellent inspirational book for anyone who is running a small business, or who knows someone who is doing such.

The success stories are fascinating and varied, and the context of small business within the development of American culture is both inspiring and helpful.

This is NOT a book that gives any particular lessons about running a small business, or making it succeed; if you're looking for that, this is not the best choice.

However: we're seeing a lot of media stuff these days about how small businesses are DOOMED!!!! I found this book an excellent anecdote to that; it shows, through anecdotes and examples, how this ain't necessarily so (quite a relief to me, since as a small business owner myself, I've been growing concerned!).

Apart from the above, it's an engaging and fascinating read, and I enjoyed it very much.
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LibraryThing member smartell
I never thought that I would enjoy this book, but I did. Not only does it show perspectives on different types of businesses, but it also made me want to own my own shop. The book was well written and organized in such a way that you could read some of it, put it down to think about what was read and come back to it to learn and enjoy more.… (more)
LibraryThing member arelenriel
This book offered a really excellent picture of small business in America. Spector's POV is unique because unlike many non-fiction authors who write about topics without having any experience in the area, Spector actually grew up with parents who ran a "Mom and Pop" store . This book was wonderful
LibraryThing member redwoodhs
Business journalist Robert Spector's book celebrates the history of small, independent retail businesses. These businesses provide a way that immigrant entrepreneurs can become involved in American commercial life and make a contribution to the American economy and support their families at the same time. Consistent customer service and community involvement are the hallmarks of the businesses discussed.… (more)
LibraryThing member NewsieQ
When I put myself on the list to obtain an Early Reviewer's copy, I hoped it would be inspiring and well written -- because I find the topic especially interesting. I have been a consultant for several small businesses and the owners were, as a rule, quite inspiring. And I patronize many small businesses -- when possible, I choose them over the national chains or franchises.

I enjoyed the book, found the stories compelling and the writing very fluid and fun to read. It's obvious that the author has great fondness for the entrepreneurs he patronizes and/or interviewed for the book.

The book is so good, in fact, that I'm going to make a suggestion that we read it for the non-fiction group at my public library. (Each year in July, we vote for the next 12 books we are reading, all of them suggested by members of the group.)

Books for that group have to be well written and fun to read -- and also give us something interesting to talk about. I look forward to a wonderful discussion -- prompted by The Mom & Pop Store -- about the small businesses we remember from the past and patronize today.

Review based on an Early Reviewer's copy of the book.
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LibraryThing member janemarieprice
Rather than being a history or study of small family-owned businesses, [The Mom and Pop Store] is more a loose collection of anecdotes and profiles of various businesses. Spector writes with passion about his subject with a healthy dose of his own personal experiences, but, unfortunately, his attempts at tying all of these different people, businesses, and themes together never quite makes it. Not a bad read by any means, but I wouldn’t particularly recommend it either.

Note: I received this through LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
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LibraryThing member chellerystick
This book consists mainly of short snippets about various mom & pop stores around the U.S. and around the world. It starts with the author's recollections and history of his family's butcher shop where he grew up. The author is deeply engaged in exploring the shops and interviewing the owners, and nearly every shop includes a list of the items sold there along with any interesting architectural details.

While the chapter titles suggest various themes, the author is not very explicit about building up a picture for each theme. Instead, the sections are only loosely linked. That said, the sketches do build up a sense of both the variety and the commonalities of the mom & pop store.

One nit: I am sure many readers would agree with me that index entries or a map of the various enterprises would have enabled us to "visit" our hometown shops in spirit!
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LibraryThing member mmhorman
When I lived in Richmond Virginia, I had the fortune of living near a street which was filled with unique sole proprietor stores. I especially remember with fondness a bookstore, where every time I went into it, I could be guaranteed to find exactly the book I wanted to read next. I now live in northern Indiana in a city where mom and pop store do not seem so be as prevalent and I miss the unique character of the one or two person shop. Certainly Borders does not have the intimate nature of Carytown Books, and certainly it employees have no where near the love or appreciation of books that one would find at a good independent bookstore.

Robert Spector is the son of a butcher, Fred Spector, who owned his own butcher shop in Perth Amboy New Jersey. Robert has fond memories of his fathers store in new Jersey. Spector recounts how his grandfather and father came from Europe to the new world, and he reminisces about how his father worked to build his store into a successful business. He also remembers how members of the community felt at home at his father's store and demonstrates the special personal touches that his father was able to provide because he grew to know his customers wants and needs so well. Spector recounts that although he was not always the best employee at his Dad's store, he learned enough lessons in customer service to become a specialist in customer service when he grew up.

Spector also travels around the country to visit various “mom and pop” stores in an effort to find out what makes a mom and pop store a success. He visits bookstores in Washington State and Washington D.C. , a soda pop specialty store in California, a cheese shop and pharmacy in Manhattan and many more. He discovers that what makes a mom and pop store last is knowledge of the product, a personal touch and the ability to diversify.

I liked this book very much and found it easy to read. I had thought it would be more of a business book, but instead it was a collection of charming essays on the history of successful family businesses which in the end gives a clear picture of the ingredients Spector feels need to go into a successful Mom and Pop Store. Also he writes a powerful case for patronizing Mom and Pop stores and staying away from the "Category Killers."
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LibraryThing member KaskaskiaVic
The family owned business comes alive in Spector's account of mom & pop stores in America. Despite the fact that these types of stores are less common as they routinely close throughout the States, many of these family stores still define their communities. I fondly remember the neighborhood stores where I grew up in the Midwest. In fact, I started recalling the sights, sounds, and smells I had as a small child at the butcher shop - memories that I hadn't thought about in years. When reading the many stories the author shares on the hardships many encounter, though, it reinforces the importance of patronizing these shops.… (more)
LibraryThing member trav
This book is equal parts love story (with small business), biography and economics history. While I could see how some of the biographical details could get a little stale and repetitive for some readers, I felt that it really helped frame the nuts and bolts of what it means to be a small shop owner. Spector did a good job of covering small shop owners, in all industries, from across the whole country.

It was interesting to see all of the similarities in all of these family-owned businesses. And how these lessons learned translate into community and a sense of creating a better place. All of the shop owners seemed to share a strong sense of pride in their work their families and for caring for the customer. None of these shop owners are set to take over the world, but you can see how each street is better off for having had that privately owned company there. I don't want to overly-romanticize the impact of all of these small businesses, but they all sure seem to have a clue that the rest of corporate America could use.

Sprinkled throughout all of these family histories and shop stories are economic nuggets and facts. Such as, "shop" is derived from an Old Saxon or German word for "porch", from a time when people sold their wares from the front porches of their homes. It's also fun to read how attitudes towards salesmen and shop owners ebb. Spector quotes Nietzche, "Merchant and pirate were for a long period one and the same person. Even today mercantile morality is really nothing but a refinement of piratical morality."

Even though some of the shop histories and family stories run long and blur in their sameness, this is a book that has stuck with me and one that I will continue to recommend.
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LibraryThing member nobooksnolife
The Mom & Pop Store: True Stories from the Heart of America, not only gathers together a vast spectrum of information about retail business in America but also weaves together engaging descriptions of dozens of human relationships forged in the histories of family businesses. I particularly enjoyed the story of the Uyesugi family who grew their jewelry business in California after the dislocation of the Japanese internment camps during WWII.… (more)


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