With all the public discussion on the present state of the economy, it has been stated by many economists, that small businesses are the engine of growth for jobs and recovery. Yet, I find practically nothing in any of our government’s actions that foster such possibilities. Dealers of art and antiques clearly experience what is wrong with the economy and the impediments they face to help bring about an upturn in our general conditions.
Entrepreneurs of small businesses have many similar qualities that have to do with the scale of operation, financial needs, and government regulations that are not easily distributed to separate divisions and departments. It all seems to require a total focus and responsibility of one individual, the owner, who can delegate to a few trusted employees. A “few” in the art and antiques industry is less that 10, and in most cases 2 or 3. However, I’m sure there isn’t a small business operator who doesn’t relish the opportunity to be in a position to expand their staff if business warranted such a need. I for one, would love to hire an additional employee or 2 or for that matter 100, if my business were to prosper. However, some formats of business are designed to work efficiently only on a small scale. Art and antiques are that way.
The challenges of surviving as a small business today make the thought of expansion seem like a far off possibility. Financial considerations aside, dealing with the needs and requirements imposed by the government for each individual employee is daunting. For each one, I must deal with Federal, State & City income tax withholding, Social Security and Medicare withholding, Workman’s Compensation, Unemployment Insurance, NY State’s new Metropolitan Transit Authority Tax (implemented to be retroactive from March), health and dental insurance contributions, Disability Insurance, etc, etc, etc. It would be nice if there was something left to give to an employee retirement or profit sharing plan; but more record keeping is not what I’m striving to do with my precious time.
With our national unemployment hovering over 10%, everyone in our industry is cutting back staff; the Sotheby’s/Christie’s duopoly has left plenty of blood on the street with their staff reductions and department consolidations. Even the best and brightest young people in the museum world are being let go. A turnaround in our industry will not necessarily equate to new hiring so quickly. So if the biggest institutions in our field are cutting back what is the prognosis of growth for the rank and file small operators that make up the largest segment of this industry?
The short answer is that small business operators, like antiques dealers, are resourceful and tenacious individuals who survive with guile, determination, and a passion for what they do. We work in this trade because we expect the unexpected and enjoy doing it as a vocation as opposed to hobby; not too many small businessmen in other industries can say that.