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It's the economy's #Arewethereyet? moment

Documentary filmmakers witness America's economy bouncing back, one swipe at a time


by: COURTESY OF DAYNA SHULTZ - John Sears and Trisha Dalton toured the United States interviewing small business owners.Who would be a small business owner? In post-Great Recession America, quite a few people, actually.

Filmmakers Trisha Dalton and John Sears took a 73-day road trip, coast to coast, looking in on 186 businesses to see what makes them tick in 2014.

As they studied the point where the rubber hits the road in the U.S. economy and documented their experiences at iamsmall

businessproud.com, Dalton and Sears clearly got the warm and fuzzies.

Capital One paid for the trip to promote the Spark Business credit card. They gave the filmmakers one of the cards and the instructions to only patronize small businesses along the way. That meant lots of B’n’Bs and indie coffee shops, but no Motel 8s or Starbucks.

“So many of the small business owners we’ve met are heroes of their community,” said Dalton over a quick soda at the Thirsty Lion (give them a pass, they didn’t know about Concept Entertainment) downtown. “They really care a lot about their customers, neighbors, and employees, and treat them all as friends. Small businesses are the crux of their communities and of the economy.”

Dalton, who grew up in Vancouver B.C. before moving to New York City, is well-travelled. On this trip they winged it, crowdsourcing destinations on the fly. Portlanders pointed them to Pok Pok, ergonomic chair store Ergo Depot, and SaySay, a women’s boutique.

Small business owners here told them there is a boom going on in Portland.

“The Ergo Depot owner said that you’d think his chairs would be more suited to the left coast, but he sells all over the country, online, so he can be where he wants,” said Sears. “And he chose Portland.

“No one has moved for a business, they’ve all moved for a lifestyle choice,” added Dalton.

They were looking for a wide variety of businesses. In Austin, Texas, there was a Kickstarter light dimmer app. In the center of Chatanooga, Tennessee, a climbing gym with a wall that is like a public sculpture.

As a small business themselves, Dalton, Sears and their assistant Dayna Schutz, put plenty of sweat equity into the trip. Sears shot hours of video on a $15,000 Sony F5 and took 200 still photos a day. They rough edited and posted to social media (#SmallBizProud) as they drove. Days usually ended by schlepping all their gear out of the suburban and into their rooms, including a large, desktop Macintosh, and writing and editing into the night.

The takeaway line sounds like a Ford Superbowl commercial.

“We saw a lot of people who survived natural disasters, such as the Jersey Shore community that was hit by Hurricane Sandy and then a boardwalk fire a year later,” she says.

Another man opened a dry cleaning business in the recession, which suffered millions of dollars of damage in a fire last year.

“He had 100 employees and no option but to keep going,” said Dalton. “There’s that stick-to-it-ness we keep seeing. When you have employees working for you it’s a lot of responsibilities. You can go without a paycheck, but others can’t.”

Some businesses look like museum pieces, but they still run like clockwork. Connie’s Shoe Repair in Richmond Virginia, a third generation business, is run by a man in his 70s.

“I don’t think they had a website and no social at all, but everyone in the community loves them,” said Sears. The old man once phoned a customer in New York City who was so touched, she now ships him all her shoes to mend. They talk on the phone a lot.”

Dalton says the analog world still asserts itself, despite the apparent ease of going digital.

“I go out of my way to go to place that knows my name, and when I want an accountant or a lawyer, they’re all small businesses, I want someone I can meet face to face, I can trust. That’s still very much alive.”