Every day is Mother’s (and Father’s) Day
Dear Mom and Pop:
Even though I’ve never met you, I love you. And like in the Bible, I totally honor you. When I hear “mom and pop,” whatever follows is a-okay in my book. You deserve all your accolades, dispensations and protections. After all, what’s more American than “mom” – the maker of apple pie and innocent babies; and “pop” – the dear old, big fish who guided you through life’s little traumas and the man who brings it home after snap and crackle have done their best? Anyone can be a mother and a father, but it takes a special someone to be a “mom and pop!”
So Mom and Pop (always together like a combo meal of entrepreneurial mystery meat), congratulations on your remarkable influence on our laws (as evidenced by your mention in virtually every effort to regulate any business or empower non mom-and-pop poor people) and your story as the bedrock example of both the backbone and the value of capitalism. Also, what a backstory! How two people, alone, presumably just sitting around the family dinner table one night (was it Taco Tuesday? Frozen Pizza Roll Wednesday? Casserole Leftover Thursday?) had a lightbulb moment is a remarkable tale.
“Let’s start a business,” Mom said to Pop. “Not a big business. Yuck! Big business!” said Pop to Mom, “but just enough of a business to put our kids through college, and/or pay for or survive some unexpected TBD medical bills and recovery (probably cancer, it’s a remarkable scourge) and/or enjoy a little well-deserved retirement time after slaving away for some-or-other number of years in the rat race, which for better or worse brought us to this watershed moment.”
“What a run-on, but presciently appropriate statement, Pop,” Mom replied. “That’s why I love you and our simple, innocent, and untainted way of life.”
Now, I presume neither of you have any significant formal business training, financial acumen or resources beyond your “life savings” or “the entire equity of your home.” I get this from your reaction when there’s any minor addition of regulatory red tape, consideration of your consumers, or modicum of social responsibility mentioned. It seems to throw you into such a tizzy that you will be irreparably ruined, and with you, the ruination of said backbone of industry, and frankly, the American way of life. This is why we must protect you at all costs, Mom, and you too, Pop.
And so, this letter is my pledge to always be there for you, like the son you always wanted or may not have ever had (though since you’re mom-and-pop, I assume that means you do have kids). Maybe that’s presumptuous. Maybe “mom” is just a nickname based on your inherent nurturing nature or your maternal disposition? Maybe “pop” is the sound of sale-priced supermarket champagne after you’ve cut the ribbon to your singular, tiny, mom-and-pop enterprise that (collectively?) employs most of the country and that (indubitably?) exemplifies American exceptionalism. Oh, no. Now I’m second guessing mom-and-populism and feeling guilty about it (which is a good sign, right, since guilt was a BIG part of my actual mom and pop experience and therefore it’s as comfortable as a hand-me-down sweater)!
Nonetheless, I think we’ve come to a challenge (children can be so rebellious). I realize I don’t know much about you other than when legislatures, lobbyists and journalists alike remind us not to mess with your plans. Intuitively, I want to be on #TeamMomAndPop. But would I even recognize you if I saw you on the street? How do I distinguish you, mom-and-pop from, well, ordinary humans who aren’t particularly important in the overall scheme of things? Do you even like being called mom-and-pop? Is that your Christian name or do you have other handles? Depending on your age, would you also answer to:
Still, in any form I want to support you. It’s…inherent. Genetic!
Where’s your quaint, petite business so I can patronize you directly? Are you able to even afford a listing on Google Maps? Supporting you is important to me, as I don't always get to testify on your behalf. More than once I’ve been cut off in legislative public comment (they only give you two minutes to talk about bills that are sometimes a hundred pages) and honestly, I can barely explain why we must prevent legislation to protect “the children” (again, your kids?) before I get cut off. Don't those legislators know who you are? If they mess with the mom-and-pops, they’ll get the knitting needles (was it mom or pop who’s the big cross-stitch fanatic?).
Also (and this is really important), I’m worried about identity-thieving mom-and-pop pretenders. Is there a certificate I can look for? A plaintive, unverifiable op-ed defining your plight? A family birthmark? Shoot, I didn’t think about that before, but now that’s all I can think about. What if people are out there claiming to be mom-and-pops when in actuality they’re conniving capitalists or insidious industrialists or misdirecting moguls or just ordinary business investors who take risks and shouldn’t get any special treatment for embarking upon the fraught-heavy endeavor of new enterprise which may or may not positively impact the community by normal tax rates or innovation? Are there somehow millionaires claiming to be moms-and-pops? Is there really an argument that good and effective mom-and-pops would not be devastated by a living wage for employees?
I mean how can I tell the difference between some foolish humans who opened the first all-you-can-eat Soup ‘R Crackers restaurant in Las Vegas (“fastest-growing non-poultry, non-coffee franchise in all of Southern California!”) that deserved to be buried after that botulism outbreak and a bonafide mom-and-pop who should be given a purge pass?
What are the criteria for being a mom-and-pop, so I don’t get fooled, again? I checked all the top tomes and sources (Freakonomics, Freidman’s Capitalism and Freedom, The Wealth of Nations, Urban Dictionary) and here’s what I came up with: It’s primarily designed to invoke whatever you think it is despite whatever it really is! Surprise, there is no hetero-normative, gender-defined mom and pop (is that where your head goes?) that meet any criteria whatsoever! They can be rich or poor, stable or not, running a good business or engaged in shady antics like putting up illegal short-term rentals with the full knowledge that they won’t be penalized once they’re legalized. They can be destined to fail no matter what regulations are or aren’t passed or positioned because of their savvy to thrive, expand and make even more money even if it gets harder to maintain the status quo they might have been used to.
So to be more precise, we should avoid the dubious shorthand and talk about these investors, speculators, start-ups and others using the privilege of disposable income, assets with equity, and access to banking or other resources as non-corporate business opportunists. Then again, many “mom-and-pops,” have decided to incorporate for tax and liability purposes and so why not go with business people — no special moniker needed. These smaller-ish scaled, enterprising individuals who like any risk-taker….take risks by opening up a shop, buying a stock, or using their savings for something as intrinsically precarious as providing a fundamental need for shelter for individuals who can’t afford a home (let alone a second, or third home). They may or may not be good actors; may or may not be jerks who do little to make our communities better places. In sum, small businesses are great; painting all of them as monolithic isn’t fair to anyone.
I honestly do love localized, small businesses owned by friends, neighbors and frankly, any folks doing stuff that’s new, interesting and innovative. I’m not calling out actually, ugh, mom-and-pops or pop-and-pops or throuples or single-soul-making-a-run-at-it. I adore anyone who takes an interest in making the community stronger and working hard to share the wealth with their employees and thoughtfulness towards their customers through economic initiative. I root for them to succeed, support them with my own dollars and fully appreciate the difficulty of competition in a world that allows wide-scale exploitation and super bad behavior. And while it makes sense to sometimes have different standards for giant businesses that can more readily absorb some rules and obligations (and we should try based on measured yardsticks), the invocation of alleged hurting “mom-and-pops” to end or derail the conversation is far too imprecise and misleading to be useful, so please stop it. When we don’t even know who “mom-and-pop” really is – it comes off like putting propaganda over policy.
Certainly we embrace and respect the tradition of mamas and papas scrambling for a living, and that’s why it makes sense that EVERYONE fashioning themselves in this light happens. The open-market is filled with choppy waters, and it’s understandable that some yell “mom-and-pops first” when the going gets rough.
And while Thanksgiving-table-grade manipulation of emotions is a hallmark of many actual moms and pops, it shouldn’t be a given that any big picture talk necessarily includes portraits of perfect people who claim to be your family. Upon closer scrutiny, it’s sometimes just models who came with the picture frame bought at a chain store.
Dayvid Figler is a criminal defense attorney based in Las Vegas. He previously served as an associate attorney representing indigent defendants charged with murder for the Clark County Special Public Defender’s office. During his legal tenure, he served a brief appointment as a Las Vegas Municipal Court judge. Figler has been cited as a noted legal expert in many places including the New York Times, National Public Radio, Newsweek, USA Today, Court TV and the Los Angeles Times. His award-winning radio essays have appeared on KNPR as well as on NPR’s All Things Considered program.