It was President Eisenhower who began development of the Interstate Highway System.  When traveling on an Interstate there’s no stop signs, higher speeds and it’s convenient.  However, there was a detrimental consequence that came with the completion of those byways.

Before construction began on a national interstate system in the 50s travelers drove two lane roads.  I live on such a road.  It’s a US Highway, one that stretches some 800 miles.  But in 1958 the construction of an interstate, running parallel to that road, began.  It was completed 16 years later and thus a consequence running contrary to convenience occurred.

Roads like Route 66 were avenues of commerce, towns sprung up along them as did restaurants, motels and tourist attractions.  But when the interstates came along fewer people began traveling the secondary roads and those towns and businesses suffered.  The road I live on is no different.  It runs through towns that are but an afterthought for most.  What was once thriving has been reduced to little more than a ghostly resemblance.

As I was putting this piece together, I shared my thoughts with my spouse and the title I had in mind.  Her comment was, “Businesses in Middle-of-the-Road America probably feel like roadkill nowadays.”  I, in turn, decided to pay a visit to one of those businesses in a town next door.  The town used to be a thriving burg, before the interstate was built, but it now resembles abandonment.

Being an ex-business owner myself, I wanted to know what it was like operating a small business in today’s economy.  I asked the owners of the convenience store down the road for an interview and they agreed.

The store’s operated by a married couple, in their early 50s.  She worked at a factory some 15 years before it closed.  He was a trucker and grew tired of being behind the wheel.  They’ve owned the business about a year and a half, and from the short time I’ve got to know them I must say they’re good people, trying to get by.  They share the duties of running the business and put in 14-hour days, but they’re steadfast on being closed on Sundays.  They have two part-time employees, high school students, who work a handful of hours.

Few are aware the government mandates that every employer must match what their employees pay in Social Security and Medicare.  They must pay workman’s comp and unemployment insurance for every employee as well. (As one might guess, it can be expensive to hire)

The gentleman called the establishment “A nickel and dime business.”  They make little to no profit on the gas they sell.  At the time of the interview, he said they were taking a $.17 a gallon loss on gasoline sales and were still $.10 a gallon higher than their competitors.  A tanker delivers gasoline to their establishment 8,000 gallons at a time and payment for the shipment is due seven days later.  They could still recall the cost of their first shipment being $18,000.   Their last delivery was $29,000.  Depending on the price of their surrounding competitors, it could take them as long as 20 days to sell that much gas.  If the price they paid per gallon was high they have little choice but to sell at a loss or sit on it, for as they said people will drive miles to save a penny or two.

The couple said there’s a perception with the public that business owners are rich.  According to them, that couldn’t be farther from the truth.  They began sharing with me some of the costs that are associated with running a small business nowadays.

They’re required to have an Indiana State Merchants license.  They also sell eggs and must have a license for that.  The fee is paid to the Indiana State Egg Board.  They must have a license to sell cigarettes, paid to the state alcohol and tobacco division.  Since the town doesn’t have a municipal water supply system, they must have their well water checked by the state five times a year.  There’s a fee per year plus the cost of testing each time payable to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.  (It’s just a sampling of government regulation)

And because they sell gasoline their tanks must be inspected every five years.  If an inspector deems running a camera down into the tanks is sufficient the cost is $2,400.  If the inspector feels he must go down in the tanks to inspect that runs $8,800.00.

The owners claimed few people write checks anymore.  People love plastic, but the convenience of that can be an avalanche of cost to the merchant.  The credit card companies charge the merchant $.35 per transaction plus 1% of the cost.  The couple said the credit card companies charged them $1,255.00 for the month of May alone.

When I asked the owners what they had to say to anyone who’s thinking of starting a business they replied, “Do the research!”  When asked if they considered their business a retirement vocation they added, “Hopefully down the road it will be.”

The lady told me, “I pray this business is a success.” When I asked the gentleman what he would have my readers know he said, “Never fear failure – don’t give up on the dream.”

Greg Allen’s column, Thinkin’ Out Loud, was published bi-monthly from 2009 to 2017.  He’s an author, a former nationally syndicated columnist and the founder of Builder of the Spirit Ministries in Jamestown, Indiana.  He can be reached at    

© Greg Allen ~ All Rights Reserved