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Niels Schack Norgaard/MEDILL

Ángel Hipouito, owner of the Shoe Hospital, works on a sewing machine.

Small businesses optimistic heading into 2014

by Maranda Bodas and Niels Schack Norgaard
Jan 14, 2014

For most Chicagoans, January’s freezing drizzles and nearly never-ending snowfall was a grim experience. But Loop shoe repair shop owner Ángel Hipouito is feeling optimistic and trying to catch up with increased demand courtesy of the polar vortex.

“When there’s snow outside, we get more business. The weather destroys all shoes, so we’ve been busier than normal,” said Hipouito, who owns the Shoe Hospital at 318 S. Dearborn St. “I do feel a little better about business than I have for a while.”

His positive outlook for 2014 lines up with the latest data from the National Federation of Independent Business. The trade group’s optimism index rose to 93.9 in December 2013, a 6.7 percent jump from 88.0 the same month last year.

The index is based on a survey of more than 600 small-business owners during the holiday season.

Lloyd Shefsky, clinical professor of entrepreneurship at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, said the bright outlook might be more about being an entrepreneur than an overall change in the economy. “Everyone has known that small-business people are the most overly optimistic people in the world,” Shefsky said.

Despite the increase in optimism, the federation was pessimistic about the December showing. “The reading is five points below the pre-recession average of 100 and nowhere close to the readings over 100 that typify recovery periods,” the National Federation said in a release.

Elliot Richardson, CEO of Chicago’s Small Business Advocacy Council, also was less than enthusiastic about Chicago’s small business environment. He cited the high cost of running a business in the Windy City as an issue that needs to be addressed in 2014.

But Richardson said he believes Chicago small businesses will become a more effective voice this year. “Small businesses are beginning to understand that by coming together and advocating with a strong voice, we can have an absolute impact,” Richardson said. “I think that makes us very optimistic and empowers us to make change.”