My wife and I have owned and run Cambridge Naturals since 1974. Yes, that is 46 years of independently owned retail operation! We were originally on Massachusetts Ave just north of Harvard Square and for the past 14 years in Porter Square. We have long been a solid business, growing (if modestly) every year and thrilled to be part of the local community.
Business is always difficult and demanding. Few if any of us ever go home at night and think to ourselves: “Ah, kick back time. We made it”. We know each day brings new and unpredictable challenges and some often seem to be insurmountable. And yet, full disclosure: We have chosen this path of earning a living because we believe we have something valuable to offer, we thoughtfully create our businesses to be both successful and part of the community and truly it is comforting to earn a living doing something we and our customers treasure.
Almost 6 years ago our daughter and her husband moved back from Oregon to join us as second generation co-owners. My wife and I were 63 and so it was wonderful to plan to continue the business long into the future. The good news included the undeniable fact that their participation in our business was a major reason these past years that our business has experienced significant growth of sales and also of more full-time and truly valued employees.
I, along with a dozen or so others, am a co-founder of Cambridge Local First (CLF) which started in 2005. I was then and am still now on the dynamic board that has kept this vital group functioning. The mission then and now was to support locally owned and independent businesses because the success of such businesses is inextricably linked to the strength of local economies and communities. It is not easy to keep such an organization going. As busy people the founders were key to the success of the organization but also always needed to keep their eyes on their own businesses. Nonetheless, through the years and many obstacles we have forged ahead. Financing the organization including paying for and supporting a motivated and energetic executive director has always been difficult. The good news? No, the great news is that in Theodora (Theo) Skeadas we clearly have just the right person. Maybe more to the point her inspiring work has brought renewed energy to the organization, including more active members and especially board members and deep connections to many other city organizations that benefit from her insights and her commitment to promoting the benefits of locally owned and independent businesses to the continued vibrancy of Cambridge and beyond. I should also mention that CLF has been always been very active in holding seminars on many topics of benefit to businesses including customer service, employee law, marketing, and best uses of social media. As well, we have long been supportive of many local non-profits which are vital to the city’s well being.
Those of us in business for a long time have experienced many challenges such as very troubling recessions to blizzards and much more. And then…COVID 19. The most difficult and unpredictable challenge ever in our lifetimes. Nothing we are doing now is easy or remotely secure. That noted, speaking as just one business owner, we are doing everything we can to keep our businesses and our awesome employee team going. In many ways it feels as if collectively and individually we are on a precipice. The financial mess, the job losses, the university closings, the numbers of people who have left town (maybe for a long time), the businesses that have already closed for good, and the ones barely open, really the darkened storefronts are very depressing. It is all very haunting and at the same time it all seems daunting.
And yet, with Theo and with our enormously revitalized organization, I see the light, I see the hope, I see the possibilities that we can help bring back the life, bring back the enthusiasm, bring back the economy and the community that has for so many years been a model for the rest of the country. With that in mind, whatever the city can do financially to help us and partner with us to succeed will be of great benefit to us all.