You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone

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support small businesses

Photo: Joe Mabel / Wikimedia Commons
Unofficial monument to 25 years of People’s Park, Berkeley, Calif., with an allusion to Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi,” which says “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”

Emily C. Skaftun
Editor-in-chief, The Norwegian American

At Christmastime, my old favorite neighborhood brewery and pub shut down forever. It was a “public house” in the truest sense, a place that was always full of fun and informative events, a place where I was constantly running into people I knew. What’s more, it was always full. Over the course of 10 years, it had expanded once, then again into a beer garden, and even opened a satellite location 50 miles away.

“What happened?” we all wanted to know. Nothing had happened. Despite its apparent success, margins were always thin, too thin to be sustainable.

Last month, this newspaper’s favorite little Nordic café closed its doors for good. “Oh,” my friends said when I told them, “I always wanted to go there.” So we did, them for the first time and me for the last. Why hadn’t they ever gone before?

On March 1, The Seattle Weekly abruptly ceased print publication, leaving a city of 700,000 without an alternative weekly paper. “It’s a tragedy,” people said. A friend asked me why the other alt-paper didn’t count, not realizing it had gone twice-monthly some time ago. Do any of us feeling sad about these closures read either paper? Not regularly.

I could list hundreds of similar examples. Especially here in Seattle, it seems like every week there’s an outcry about something beloved being torn down.

Joni Mitchell’s song “Big Yellow Taxi” starts to play in my head at these times. “Don’t it always seem to go / that you don’t know what you’ve till it’s gone.” The song focuses heavily on the environment, but it’s widely applicable.

I’ve been thinking about a certain kind of thinking I seem to see a lot, a feeling that everything is someone else’s problem, maybe, something similar to the bystander effect that leads to no one calling 911 to report a fire because they assume that someone else already has.

Once I thought of it that way, I started to see it everywhere.

Anti-vaxxers think they can rely on herd immunity to protect their children from horrible diseases, and now we have measles again. Maybe polio next.

We feel like our votes don’t make a difference, or that none of the candidates are perfect enough for us, so we stay home on election day.

Our personal efforts to lead more environmentally conscious lives are grossly inadequate in the face of giant corporate polluters and the scale of the problem, so we lose hope. What’s the point of using my canvas grocery bags when the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the size of Texas?

We want to live in an area with vibrant and unique small businesses, but somehow we never get around to shopping or eating at them. We’ll get there someday, when we have more money or time.

We recognize that a media environment with more choices is a public good—one of the crucial pillars of democracy, even—but we don’t pay for a newspaper subscription.

And then it’s gone.

I suspect I’m preaching to the choir here, to those of you who do subscribe to this paper (not that I’m suggesting we’re some kind of Democracy Pillar, not little old us), and are therefore by definition the kind of person who supports small businesses.

(But if you are reading this and you don’t pay to support this paper—because you get the paper from your neighbor or at your lodge, or because you’re reading one of your free articles online—perhaps you could take a moment to consider whether you think what we do is worthwhile and whether you would miss us if we were gone. And then perhaps another moment to reflect on what a small amount of money $30 is, for a year’s digital subscription to this paper. You can sign up at

What I’m realizing is that if we’re not supporting the things we believe in, we’re part of the problem. I’m going to try to do my part. See you at the local café?

The opinions expressed by opinion writers featured in “On the Edge” are not necessarily those of The Norwegian American, and our publication of those views is not an endorsement of them. Comments, suggestions, and complaints about the opinions expressed by the paper’s editorials should be directed to the editor.

This article originally appeared in the March 22, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.