After a restless night of staying up to watch the polls, 59-year-old John Shott got what he’d hoped for on election day. He got a man who says he’s bringing business back.
“We got something to look forward to,” he said, hands fiddling with a loose machine part. “There’s still hope.”
Six months have passed since Donald Trump was elected into office, and Shott is proud to leave his Trump signs publicly displayed across his business. Located at 456 E. South St., a large banner with the words “Vote Trump for President” hangs facing the street on the side of Shott’s Auto Machine Shop. A smaller sign sits behind a window. Throughout his 27 years of owning the shop, this is the first time Shott made the decision to get political with his business.
For Shott, this move was worth the business risk.
“Most businesses won’t do it because you’re gonna make some of the people mad, but I’ve been in business long enough. It didn’t bother me,” he said. “Being quiet doesn’t seem to do any good.”
Born and raised in Galesburg, Shott remembers the city’s economic peak in the 1970s: When he said you could be out of a job one day and find a new one the next. He has watched factories close and residents subsequently move.
“People are leaving every day,” he said. “I think over the four years there will be a lot more [business] coming back.”
Shott knows several other Galesburg business owners who support Trump, but he wouldn’t share their names with The Knox Student. He understands how outing political beliefs can have its consequences.
“A lot of people don’t like to get involved in politics because there’s a downside sometimes, especially in this town. A lot of them can’t afford to lose any business,” Shott said. “I was willing to take that chance.”
Walt McAllister, owner of Main Street’s Q’s Cafe, was also willing to take a financial risk when he decided to run for mayor this year.
McAllister had never intended to run, until he found out candidate John Pritchard would be running unopposed.
He was tired of sitting on the sidelines.
“You have to be involved. To do nothing would have been wrong,” McAllister said. “Galesburg needs a choice.”
McAllister had major concerns about how his campaign would impact business at a “little ma and pop” like Q’s. He understands that trying to run a small restaurant is a huge risk in and of itself.
“We kind of live on the edge of destruction all the time,” McAllister said.
He doesn’t think he would have taken this chance 10 years ago.
McAllister struggled to recall other small Galesburg business owners who’d made a similar choice to become more politically active, leaving little to compare to his own experience. It saddens him to know how hard it can be for small businesses to speak up for themselves.
“There were a lot of people who have a lot of influence in town who came up to us and said we support everything you say and everything you do, I’m just not allowed to say anything,” McAllister said. “And that’s sad … that people are afraid they’ll lose their jobs if they speak out politically.”
Identifying as an independent conservative, Shott considered the possibility of losing business in a “liberal” city like Galesburg. He experienced backlash early on when his yard signs were stolen off his storefront property.
According to Shott, it “could’ve been anybody.”
“I didn’t vote for Obama, but he was our president and I respected that. I didn’t go out and protest and throw a fit,” Shott said. “I didn’t take [the banner] down because we’re still throwing a fit about [Trump’s presidency], and that’s not acceptable.”
Despite the anonymous resistance, Shott hasn’t noticed a decline in business. Sometimes an occasional passerby will even stop in to thank him for the sign. As for McAllister, he’s grateful to be able to say the same.
“My customers have been overwhelmingly supportive of our endeavors,” McAllister said.
While he has yet to observe any changes on the business side, McAllister has noticed positive social changes since the mayoral election, despite his loss. He’s been pleasantly surprised by the number of people who’ve come up to him, even during routine trips to the grocery store, to express their concerns about things happening in Galesburg.
Although he understands not every Galesburg business owner is able to take the same chance he did, McAllister appreciates the subtle shifts in political conversation.
People are talking and for McAllister, it’s worth the financial uncertainty.
“I would encourage people to become more active in their community, in the long run you’ll be glad you did,” McAllister said. “Despite the risk, despite how nasty the campaign got, I’m really glad we did it.”