We're not looking to point any fingers today but to lament some roads not taken, or not yet taken, anyway.
Our eyes were caught a few weeks ago by the travails of a Brainerd Road watering hole called Mayo's. Seems the owners' decision to expand its outdoor area at the first of the year had led to the need to replace a grease receptacle, which had led to a series of miscommunications, which had led to the 34-year-old restaurant being shut down with structural problems in May.
The mom-and-son-and-daughter establishment hasn't reopened.
We've never been in Mayo's and don't know the Mayos, but we believe we may have a taken a few sips of a cold brew at a previous bar on the spot, or at a building very close by. If it was the same building, it seemed ancient then, so the chances of structural problems in the ensuing years since college would likely only have increased.
We know a little about small businesses, too. Some folks near and dear to us ran a downtown retail establishment for nearly 80 years, and we saw firsthand some of what small business owners have to go through to remain open and vibrant.
One time, we recall, there was an issue about a neon light in the front window. Something wasn't quite right, and the city inspector said no lights could be displayed until the problem was fixed.
Another time the elevator was down, which meant someone we know spent the summer carrying items up and down the stairs. But the elevator couldn't be put back into use when repaired without the proper inspection.
Safety and all, you know.
But to return to the Mayos, their darkest days ensued after someone poured grease the restaurant was storing (since it no longer had a grease receptacle) into a stormwater drain behind the restaurant. And someone reported the restaurant to the health department.
"I don't know who poured it into the ditch, or who called, but they came out and didn't tell us or anything," co-owner Rick Mayo told the paper. "We got a letter."
That's never good.
Following that came a cadre of city engineers and plumbing and electrical inspectors, who found a crack in a beam running under the building, old receptacles and outlet covers, and that the floor needed to be replaced, among other things.
Inspectors, be they city or county, have enormous power. They can hold the fate of a business in their hands. We've heard stories through the years of inspectors who were told to find this and that wrong at a business, of inspectors who had a grudge against the owner of the business they were inspecting and of inspectors who were quietly on the take.
We know nothing about the city folks who inspected Mayo's, and have no reason to believe they were doing anything but what they were supposed to.
Nevertheless, what they found was a lot for small business owners to take in, and to replace, what with construction professionals up to their necks in other business, the price of construction materials going through the roof, and the banks being unwilling to lend money to a business whose bottom line — like many similar places — had been damaged by the COVID-19 pandemic.
You hear a lot about small businesses being the backbone of the country, and we believe that's so. From time to time, you also hear about governments wanting to provide assistance for small businesses. And today, you can't read a local newspaper without seeing something about assistance for minority businesses, about making sure minority businesses get contracts and about equity — that nebulous catch-all word — for minority businesses.
Chattanooga, just as cities across the country, is swimming in federal pandemic money. It's so much that the mayor's office is accepting funding requests to guide the city's use of a good portion of the $38.6 million allotted to it.
To reiterate, we don't know the Mayos, don't know the extent of their building's problems, don't know what they did right or wrong during their ordeal, don't suspect current inspectors of malfeasance and don't know that there are not programs already out there that would help them.
But it seems to us the family's small business is just the type that the city would want to keep going.
Indeed, in June, when Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly announced his reorganization plan for city government, he said this: "In my administration, economic development will go beyond incentives and industrial parks — we will open up pathways for local small businesses to grow and thrive and hire."
We hope somewhere in that warren of reorganized city offices, and with that stash of cash the federal government is sending our way, there is help for the Mayos. But not just for them, but for many small businesses like theirs. It's the type of help that would allow many of us to put stock back in the hope government is here to help us, not hinder us.