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Local Column

Heimerman: Well that escalated quickly

While like most of you, I question Ryan Hopper’s motives for closing his gourmet popcorn shop in downtown Sycamore, I share his concerns about the minimum wage hike that will be phased in over the next six years.

And I worry about what this will mean for small businesses in DeKalb County, since less than a week after Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the wage hike into law, one is cutting and running.

It’s my job to question. I wonder whether this is about taxes and the hike, or about a tough-to-sustain business getting out.

Is it any of my business? Technically, no. It’s a private business. That said, Hopper, 34, spoke with our reporter, Katie Finlon, and said with Illinois’ high property and income taxes, the prospect of paying all his employees at least $15 an hour by 2025, it’s time to make a move – to as far away as North Carolina.

The timing of the decision could be as smart as it is startling. Dozens of people have debated it in the comments on our Facebook page, many of them calling (expletive deleted) because the minimum wage will go up from $8.25 to only $9.25 in January, then up to $10 in July 2020, followed by a $1 hike each January until 2025.

I’m guessing a lot of those folks haven’t owned their own business, though. A business owner who wastes time reacting to changing circumstances can find themselves going out of business altogether, and will soon work for someone else.

I’m not sure which phase of the wage hike would make Hopper’s Poppers’ business plan unfeasible, but it might not be terribly far down the road. Making and slinging gourmet popcorn isn’t the sort of career one carves out to be a family’s chief bread-winner.

Similar to the business that serves Hopper’s Poppers’ products, the Sycamore Theater, I’m guessing the staff is made up of mostly teenagers looking for just enough money to gas up their car and buy hula hoops and Pac-Man video games, or whatever today’s youth are into.

The prospect of paying such staffers $15 an hour in DeKalb County is jarring. It’s a fine landing pad in Chicago, but will prove crippling for small business throughout the rest of the state. To steal a line a regional schools superintendent coined to me some time ago, when Chicago sneezes, the rest of the state catches a cold.

Hopper’s young – younger than me, anyway – and his children are about the same age as mine. So I respect him trying to be agile and smart, while he’s in his prime.

On the flip side, people shouldn’t be paid a base rate of $8.25 an hour. It’s been way too long, 12 years, since the state has seen a bump to the minimum wage, and unfortunately, a large part of the population is making somewhere between there and $15, grinding it out, sweating their budgets in order to give their families the best shot they can.

But I don’t want to buy my popcorn exclusively at big-box stores. I enjoy thrifting. I want parks departments and institutions such as YMCAs, which hire tons of teenagers and summer help, to thrive.

I like taking my family to the Sycamore Theater, rather than watching movies at home. I want my children to have that experience I cherished as a kid.

Speaking of which, talk about an uphill battle – first streaming services and Redbox, now needing to pay staff nearly double what you’ve been paying them. What will happen to fixtures such as Sycamore Theater?

We’ll see, I guess.

• Christopher Heimerman is the editor
at the Daily Chronicle. He can be reached at cheimerman@shawmedia.com.

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