Why be with company? Recapturing the American Dream

Kevin Song
A personal photo shared by withco founder, Kevin Song. Pictured is a family sitting around a dining room table.
Published on February 1, 2022

My story is my family’s story.
And my family’s story is an American one.
Maybe you’ve heard it before.
It goes like this.

Immigrant parents leave home, in hopes of giving their kids a better one.
They land in New York to make a new life.
They start a small business built on big dreams.
They work relentlessly until they have regulars.
They sponsor little league and give young moms a little help when they’re in a pinch.
All these little things make a big difference on their block.
But their neighborhood changes fast. The rent changes faster.
The family puts up a fight, but it isn’t a fair one.
Their small grocery store is replaced by a bank chain.
And their big dreams are replaced by a new reality.

It’s a story as old as Main Street America.
And once big business lays eyes on a particular property, it’s a relatively short one after that.
Happening seemingly overnight, like scaffolding going up around the local corner store.
And for every family like mine in Brooklyn,
There’s countless others, from Orlando to Oakland,
Who have watched the fruits of their labor be picked by someone with deeper pockets.

People in this country still like to romanticize small businesses like my parents’
Believing success and longevity still go to the hardest worker, not the highest bidder.
But if you’ve met my parents, or any small business owner for that matter,
You’d know that a lack of work ethic has never been the problem.
The problem is a system that doesn’t reward, but punishes entrepreneurs,
Cashing out the value they create in our neighborhoods to whoever pays the most.

Whether you’re the son of immigrants who’ve experienced its effects firsthand like I have,
Or just someone who has watched the gridded streets of their once-vibrant neighborhood start to look and feel like aisles in one big mall,
Gentrification can feel inevitable.
And that feeling of inevitability can quickly turn to indifference.
And once that happens we’ve lost our chance at change.
And the dream is dead.

I started withco to do everything I can to make sure that doesn’t happen.
And to ensure the next generation can dream the way my parents did on distant shores.
Even in a system that is rigged against them.
It’s what keeps me up at night, and gets me out of bed in the morning,
Defining me more than I care to admit sometimes.
And while my family’s story certainly isn’t a novel one,
The experience, along with a lot of help and learning since, has inspired what I believe could be a novel solution.
A simple approach to combat a problem that’s anything but.

Here’s how it works.
We identify amazing small businesses all over the country.
Then we find a way to buy the building they’re operating out of or buy a building that they want to relocate to or expand to.
The business owners give us two things. Rent and an open line of communication.
Once they’ve completed a lease term, we gift them the down payment and the building is theirs.
Along with full control of their shop’s future. Not to mention their family’s.

And so far it’s working.
We’ve partnered with Mitch, Wes, Brad, and Waiiti to name just a few.
We’ll partner with so many more new small businesses going forward.
And we believe this is just the beginning.

I said above that this solution is a relatively simple one. But make no mistake, simple doesn’t mean easy.
It will take partners who believe in what we’re doing, and the importance and urgency of it.
It will take a heroic effort from our growing team.
More Pablos, Mels, and Stus who are willing to fight like hell in order to give these small businesses a fighting chance. To take control of their own businesses, and in the process, their own destinies.
It will take a renewed belief from all of us, about what’s possible when we play on equal footing.
When we remember that the strength of a community truly does lie in its corner stores.
And that the heart of the city has never been where the buildings are the highest.
It’s always been where the people care the most, and dream the biggest.

We have work to do. Join our growing team.

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