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Let's just call it advice

Posted: August 11, 2011 4:10 p.m.
Updated: August 12, 2011 5:00 a.m.

Unless you’ve been burrowed in a hermit’s hole somewhere for the last few years, you know that there has never been a more volatile time for businesses.

The stock market has been on a roller coaster ride. Real estate values have tanked, and foreclosures have spiraled to record highs.

Small businesses across the country are struggling to stay afloat as consumers hang on to their cash and hope they’ll still have jobs next week.

Some of the biggest names in American business have gone bankrupt, and the landscape of commerce is nothing like it was a decade ago. Many companies are going the way of buggy whip manufacturers.

So amid that, I was encouraged -- and then dismayed -- at my latest encounter of the new breed of entrepreneur in America today.

There I was, walking down the street, when I saw a little card table set up with two boys who appeared to be about 12 years old sitting behind it. A sign taped to the table was hanging so it was visible to passers-by who were driving and walking down the busy street:

 “Sea Glass Jewelry For Sale.”

Gosh, that looked like a good thing: entrepreneurial young American lads, setting up a booth to sell baubles made of discarded glass thoughtlessly tossed into the ocean and later worn smooth by waves. Hey, that’s even better than the traditional lemonade stand.

I stepped up to the table, my money clip at the ready. The items, crudely but carefully made, were reasonably priced -- five dollars here, eight bucks there. The young men behind the table were obviously proud of their work.

 “I might be looking at the future CEOs of major American companies,” I thought happily. “One of these boys might be running Apple someday in the future. The other might create the next Google.”

Then I saw the jar with the small sign stuck to it with Scotch tape:

 “TIPS AND DONATIONS.”

Omigosh. If you read this column regularly -- I know, I know, some of you are thinking “Why on earth would I do that?” -- you’re aware that I have written before about tipping and the fact that many people in today’s society have come to expect generous tips whether they perform any service or not.

Hot dog vendor at the stadium? Wants a big tip. Cashier at the sub shop? Looking for tips.

I almost said something to the kids. I almost launched into what my own children still call “sermon mode.” I almost asked them whether they thought John D. Rockefeller or Bill Gates had expected to be tipped when they started some of this country’s great enterprises.

But I didn’t. 

However, I did wonder  whether this is what our new generation has become, a nurturer of businesses that want to be  tipped -- or worse, donated to -- for selling their goods for a profit.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big believer in tipping, and we Americans are the most generous tippers in the world. Ask those who wait tables or hump baggage in hotels or drive taxis. Americans reward them generously for their efforts. I won’t make a comment on Europeans’ chintziness when it comes to tipping, That’s part of their culture.

But many people have come to expect a hefty reward even if they leave you sitting with a menu for half an hour or forget to clear your table after the meal or don’t bring your bags to your room for an hour.

Even worse are the ubiquitous tip jars that sit in front of cash registers across the country.

They’re bad enough, but a TIPS AND DONATONS jar at a roadside stand is crossing the threshold. One more trip past the boys’ stand and I’ll be working my way into sermon mode really quickly.

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