Local Businesses Create Our World: Little Chapel On The River

I cheated last night. I stayed up late doing it, and I woke up thinking about it.

And I don’t regret it for an instant.

Little Chapel on the River isn’t the book I’m supposed to be reading for my book club. (We’re reading War and Peace. I was a proponent. Sigh.)

Gwendolyn Bounds has documented the life and times of a small-town family business on the Hudson River, Guinan’s Pub & Country Store.

Bounds honors us, and the Guinan family, by noticing.

She captures sights, sounds and characters in the orbit of one family business. By writing the story of the relationships that grow up around this business, she tells a basic truth.

As they create ground and space for local relationships to grow, Mom & Pop businesses offer us the possibility for transformation.

Wendy describes how Guinan’s set aside morning papers for regulars, penciling names on the upper corners, and laying them out. Setting out coffee and a bit of money so that harried commuters could serve themselves, and make change, on the honors system.

Our local businesses change our worlds microscopically, intimately, by creating small safe spaces that expand to become part of our lives.

When I cracked the cover of this book, I never realized that the author and I would have parallel stories, starting the day that forever changed the way New Yorkers see a crisp blue sky.

In the years following the attacks on the World Trade Center, Bounds and I both ended up literally behind the counters of the small safe spaces we found, hoping beyond reason to preserve places we felt had value. Her little chapel was an Irish bar in Garrison, mine was a small local business in Lower Manhattan.

The book ends before the story does. Guinan’s closed this past week after 50 years in business.

I woke up this morning not quite remembering this; I remembered Bounds’ Little Chapel blog, and I logged on first thing. The blog offered news coverage of the final night of Irish music at the pub, but I didn’t have the heart to watch it.

Bounds writes on small business for the Wall Street Journal — and in a recent column on Guinan’s, she says “the soul of this family business disappears with the family”.

With time, I hope that she’ll feel differently: what this business put into people’s hearts can’t disappear.

A flick of my finger left the virtual Guinan’s behind me on my laptop, but the strains of “Danny Boy” came out with me for coffee. The sun shone through the mist rising off the East River.

For a moment, my feet were grounded in a soil far greener than that of the isle of Manhattan.

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