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Nicholson '12.5: Capitalism - a fairly ugly story

We've all seen "You've Got Mail"… No? The masterful romantic comedy about Internet-love circa 1998? Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks' reunion hit after "Sleepless in Seattle"?

Well, for those who haven't had the pleasure, the plot is quite simple. Meg Ryan owns a charming children's bookstore called "The Shop Around the Corner." Tom Hanks is opening up a Fox Books "Superstore" (in the style of Barnes & Noble), promising to push Meg Ryan out of business. By way of the Internet romance, they fall in love. And, while Meg Ryan has to close down her family-owned shop, no hard feelings are exchanged. After all, she ends up marrying a handsome millionaire.

Unfortunately for Ms. Young and her eponymous salon, Forever Young Nail Care, life is not a Nora Ephron movie. Located directly across Thayer Street, E-nails, a salon offering nearly identical services, opened for business in the fall of 2010. Young's business was hit hard. On hearing about the opening of the salon, she described, "I was surprised. Oh no, not good. I have to work. If I don't work, I don't make money… We don't want to pay for rent only, we want to support our families."

Young, who hails from Vietnam, works side-by-side with her two employees: her sister-in-law and another close personal friend. Located in the basement of 224 Thayer Street, the salon has a comfortable, family-owned business vibe, with playful wallpaper and state-of-the-art spa chairs. Young offers manicures, pedicures and friendly conversation, all for a bargain. She says she gives special rates to students because, "I have fun with the kids. Makes my mind feel younger."

While Young knows little about the owner of E-nails, she knows he has owned numerous businesses in the past. According to Young, his reputation in the nail-salon business was set. He would, "build, then sell. Build, then sell." After hearing about E-nails, Young claims to have reached out to him, saying, "I'm not jealous, but if you open this business, we will both get hurt. If he really wants to have a business in this location, he can buy the business from me. I don't like to fight… He didn't listen."

And now, they're both suffering for it. Young says, "I can tell, he don't do good either." The problem, Young describes, is when she is busy. She tells me, "You come, I'm busy, you'll come back. Now, you go across the street. That's the problem. And it's a problem for both of us."

While Young's attitude, in spite of things, remains largely upbeat, tears come to her eyes when she reflects upon the state of her two college-aged children. She explains, "I support my family. My husband died 20 years ago. My daughter goes to college. It's all very expensive. I am really sad because my daughter has had to get a job. She works herself to pay rent, because she knows I don't do well anymore."

There is a lesson to be learned here, and it isn't necessarily a socialist one. I am not here to knock capitalism or call for city planning. Instead, I wish to highlight the important role we as Brown students play in the local economy. Young puts it best by saying, "Really, thank you to the kids. They're very loyal. I need more support. I really need more support."

As members of the Brown community and key constituents of the surrounding Providence economy, we must accept our role as economic deciders. With the coming of Chipotle and perhaps a future onslaught of corporate food-stops, we must remember to support our local, family-run businesses. Realistically speaking, Thayer Street draws its charm from these very individuals. Imagine our Thayer without the characters of TeaLuxe, the kind ladies at Spice or the cyclers at Nice Slice. Perhaps we don't realize, but it is these very people who make up our college experience. It would be a pity to lose this colorful group, so indicative of our own multifaceted identity at Brown.

Lastly and most importantly, in the big picture of our future lives, we must remember to buy responsibly and support companies that align with our own moral compasses. This means supporting those businesses that make an effort to reduce their ecological footprint, sponsor charitable organizations and strive to positively impact the global community at large. Perhaps you're not passionate enough to go out and protest in the name of the environment or your community. That's understandable. But I believe people, by and large, underestimate their own ability to change the world around them. Bad corporations survive because the consumers support them. The American public needs to make an effort to know the source of their products and harshly judge the company in question.

As for Young, she assures me there is no need to worry. She affirms, "As I told you, I won't give up. I am tired. I have headaches, stress… but I won't give up." As Meg Ryan suggests in "You've Got Mail," we must save the shop around the corner.

 

 

Lorraine Nicholson '12.5 is a literary arts concentrator from Los Angeles, Calif.


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