Many Americans tend to think of the U.S. as the place for small business people, but I suspect there are more small business people per capita in many of the countries we’ve visited than back home. Amy and I recently walked around our neighbourhood counting small family stores (think of a 7-11, but about 1/3 to ½ the size) selling pop, chips, and a few other things. Within a three block radius we counted 19 of these businesses. We may have missed one or two, and we weren’t counting all the other small businesses, like papelerias (paper and school supply stores), auto shops, small clothing stores, and many others. And this is a residential neighbourhood, as much as that means anything in a country where there isn’t any zoning, as far as I can tell.

There is the Mercado de Artesanias (three blocks long) where artisans sell jewellery, small crafts, tinwork, and so on. The shops vary in size, from about 8 foot square, to maybe twice that size. There are quite a few more carts on the streets here, too, selling ice cream, tacos, chips, you name it. Vendors may walk through neighbourhoods pushing a bike with a grinder on it for sharpening knives or carrying foods like jicama, corn, or tortillas to sell. They call out what they’re selling or, depending on their craft, they may have a particular whistle, horn, or recorded jingle that announces their presence.

People often don’t have many employment options even in places like San Miguel, which is fairly prosperous. In a city like Corvallis there are still large employers like Oregon State University and Hewlett-Packard, a few mid-size employers, and lots of small businesses that employ at least a few people. Most people in the States will never work for themselves or start a business, although with the recession I know more Americans have had to get creative in finding ways to support themselves and their families. Because the costs of starting and running a business are so much greater in America, though, a person normally has to really want to be an entrepreneur; here a person needs to be an entrepreneur just to survive.

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