Washington Business Journal: Gina Schaefer: D.C. Wage Bill Will Boost Economy

Op-Ed By Gina Schaefer, owner of A Few Cool Hardware Stores and a member of Business for a Fair Minimum Wage
Washington Business Journal, June 17, 2016

As a business owner and a resident, I’m very invested in our city and its future success. That’s why I believe the D.C. Council made the right decision when it voted to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020.

When my husband and I opened our first hardware store 13 years ago in Logan Circle, we did it because we wanted a great neighborhood hardware store. We weren’t alone. Customers started coming in from further away, asking us to open stores in their neighborhoods. So we did.

Since opening our first store in 2003, we’ve expanded in D.C. to Glover Park Hardware, Tenleytown Ace Hardware, 5th Street Ace Hardware, Woodley Park Ace Hardware and Adams Morgan Ace. With more than 240 employees at our six stores in D.C. and five stores in Maryland and Virginia, we believe strongly that raising D.C.’s minimum wage to $15 will strengthen the District’s economy, not hurt it.

We couldn’t have grown as quickly as we did without our dedicated employees and the customers we serve every day. Customers have a choice – and we know our employees are a big reason they choose us.

We have seen firsthand that raising pay at the bottom is good for the bottom line. When employees earn a decent starting wage, they can concentrate on their job and on the customers without continual stress over covering the basics like rent, groceries and transportation.

When you pay your employees a living wage, you show them that you value their work, and in return they value your business. They work hard and stay with you.

Instead of high employee turnover, we have high employee retention. Instead of spending large amounts of time and money on regularly replacing and training new employees, we can concentrate on improving our business.

Our employees are on the frontlines. They are responsible for maintaining our reputation and interacting with customers. Those interactions often make the difference between a customer who enjoys coming into our store and a person who’d rather just shop online. Satisfied customers don’t just keep coming back themselves, they tell their friends and families about us.

I am committed to making D.C. a better place to live, work and shop. But some of our nation’s largest corporations pay wages so low that many of their employees have to turn to food banks or food stamps and other public assistance for the essentials.

This means companies that can afford to pay higher minimum wages, but aren’t, are being subsidized by taxpayers. From an economic standpoint, this makes no sense. All businesses should pay at least enough for their employees to live on.

Local businesses depend heavily on local customers with money to spend. Our employees shop at other businesses, and the employees of other businesses shop at our stores.

When the minimum wage goes up it puts money in the pockets of people who most need to spend it — from making rent to buying things they could not afford before from the grocer, the pharmacy, the shoe store, the auto repair, and, yes, the hardware store.

Gradually raising the minimum wage from $11.50 this July to $15 an hour by 2020 will give businesses time to plan for incremental increases. And an annual cost of living adjustment in future years will make wages and consumer demand more predictable.

Better entry-level wages helped my business succeed. Raising D.C.’s minimum wage will help our city succeed and make it possible for all our neighborhoods to thrive.

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Copyright 2016 Gina Schaefer


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