Cece Hardacker and Tonya Hart did everything right. Well, almost everything.
They had a quality product and a solid business plan.- They provided good service and they knew what they were doing.- They treated their customers and their employees with respect.- They intuitively picked a good location and helped lead the campaign that caused folks in Chicago to refer to our fair village as the “New Bucktown.”
They did everything right; yet, Two Fish is going out of business. And it’s due to the one thing that was completely out of their control: the poor economy.
But, with all due respect to Coach Lombardi, who once declared, “winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing” I’d like to explain why Cece and Tonya are among my role models.
They practiced what Cece once referred to as “socialist capitalism.”- What she meant, I think, is that in a market economy, you are in competition with other businesses for scarce dollars so you better be mentally, emotionally and physically fit enough to play in a rough-and-tumble game.
That’s the capitalist part of the Two Fish approach.- The socialist aspect was that Cece and Tonya believed that cooperation makes each business stronger, that a rising tide does really raise most, if not all, of the boats.
They did it with M2 (Madison Street Merchants), of which they were two of the “founding mothers.”- One year, Two Fish and several other small businesses on Madison Street pooled their marketing money and found they had $50,000 to work with. They then used that money to advertise with big media like the Trib and Chicago magazine.
M2 demonstrated a shared trust because the ads it took out focused more on Forest Park and Madison Street as destination spots, than they did on any particular store. Likewise, the co-op practiced guerilla marketing: in this case, a low-cost, grassroots approach to comprehensive promotion.
For example, if a customer drove in from Naperville because she saw an M2 ad in the Trib, and bought a lamp at Two Fish, Cece and Tanya would suggest that the woman stop by Centuries & Sleuths to check out Augie’s books, or have lunch at one of the local eateries.
As Mayor Calderone and Art Jones noted in recent Review articles, Cece and Tanya are smart businesswomen.- But, I hold them near and dear to my heart because they combined hardheaded business sense with openhearted empathy for their employees, customers and the other merchants on the street.
Cece and Tanya were also actively involved with the chamber, and one of my fondest memories involving them occurred after one of our meetings. The late Wayne Schauer approached Cece and said with mock formality, “May I escort you to your business?”
With that sly grin of hers, Cece replied, “Sir, you know I am married.”
“So am I,” Wayne shot back. The two then walked out the door arm-in-arm.
Oftentimes, when I walked into their store, I’d talk to either of them, or both, not about business, but mostly about relationships. One time, as I was leaving, Cece bid me farewell by saying, “Take care of yourself, my friend.”
And she meant it.
The values I live by state that the success of people like Cece and Tanya can be measured by how much they gave to the community, much more so than by how much money they earned.
Cece and Tonya, we’re going to miss you – for a lot of reasons.
-Tom Holmes has worked in Forest Park since 1982 as a pastor and as a writer. He is grateful that his children grew up in this town and finds inspiration in the personal relationships he has developed with so many.