Shawn Annarelli: Economic backbone is small business

Big box retailer origins in Centre County can be traced back to the 1960s.

Small mom-and-pop shops?

They’ve been around for about 200 years.

In the past, the Centre Daily Times’ annual Business Matters has focused on topics such as health care, technology and the energy industry. But this year, we went back to our roots — to the small businesses that are the foundation of our communities and a backbone of the local economy.

Small businesses, after all, represent 99.7 percent of all employer firms, generate 64 percent of new jobs and pay 44 percent of the nation’s private payroll, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.

There are a few things, however, that make a small business successful.

Courage to take the plunge is the first thing that comes to mind.

So many small-business owners I’ve talked to have said the best perk of being your own boss is that you can’t be fired. But they also acknowledge that it’s their responsibility to keep the doors open.

That means putting extra time into their businesses behind the scenes.

Another piece to the success puzzle is community support.

Small businesses, of course, need to provide products and services people want, but that’s not enough. They also need to treat customers well.

Those are the basics, at least, and the next time you walk into a small business, ask the owners what makes them successful. They will have a story to tell.

They all do.

In these 16 pages, you’ll read some of those Centre County stories — region by region.

Some local small-business owners have traveled far to open up shop.

Sohan Dadra believed in the American dream and moved from India to New York and finally to State College to open a restaurant, and Jonas Price moved from Seattle to buy an inn.

Some businesses are downright unique.

The Mathis family owns a restaurant, retail store, manufacturing facility and doctor’s office all in the same building, and the Jordan brothers saw more potential in hockey pucks than shooting them into nets.

Others decided it was time to leave corporate jobs, to stop working for the man and to start working for themselves.

Wendy Fultz left Penn State after 19 years to buy a coffee shop, and Wanda Crosby never felt right taking orders from a boss.

These are their stories — stories that illustrate what it takes to make a small business a success story.