(This post originally appeared on The Guardian)
A business owner in Ohio made news this week because he refused to sell his products and services to supporters of Donald Trump. Was that a good idea? I’m sure you can guess the answer.
“Joe”, the owner of Joe’s Music, a 15-year-old small musical instrument and accessory shop that also provides lessons in Willoughby, Ohio, made the declaration in a recent Facebook post.
“Dear Trump sympathizers,” he wrote. “I am truly sorry, however I feel unclean and dirty accepting money from you. Please, politely shop somewhere else. Sorry, I would rather starve and close the store than participate in wrongdoing.” He also posted a sign on his shop’s front door with a similar message, basically telling the president’s supporters to stay away.
Not surprisingly, the reaction – particularly via phone calls and on popular social media sites such as Facebook and Yelp – has been overwhelming. He has received support … and he has received death threats. The police now have to keep an eye on his store. Which was not what he expected. Rattled by all the attention, Joe ultimately backed away from his comments, took down the sign, deleted the Facebook post and issued an apology, saying that he was “truly sorry to the Trump supporters” that he hurt and that he “made the mistake of being insensitive” to their feelings, according to a report from the News Herald, a local paper.
But the damage was done. The news became viral. And another small business owner who stepped into the political debate quickly realized that he was way out of his depth. That’s what happens to neophytes who don’t realize just how toxic the political environment in this country is. This is a game for a certain kind of person with a certain kind of personality and not the “soft-spoken” and “principled” owner of a small music shop in Ohio, as he was described in a local television report. You’re going to need a pretty thick skin if you want to take a public stand. Joe should have stuck to his music.
Now, he has to pick up the pieces. Hopefully this incident will fade from memory and he can go back to doing what he does best. But the lesson for him and other small business owners who want to get politically active still resonates: think twice. The reaction may not be what you expected, and it could cost you. In Joe’s case, it could ultimately disenfranchise half of his customers, depending on how they feel about the president.
Politics and small business don’t mix. Like many smart business owners I know, Joe would be best served figuring out how Trump’s policies will affect his trade and how to either benefit or navigate around them. As for his political views, he’s best keeping that for the voter’s booth.