The Keen Competition in Business
How Two Rival Merchants Watched Each Other with Jealous Eye and in a Malignant Spirit—The Race for Supremacy and the Way it Resulted — Both Men Lost all that They Possessed.
By Thomas H. Curry
SPRINGDALE was a small but happy village. It had no electric cars or gas lamps and cabs were but dreams. It had but one street which entered the village and switched off into the open country.
When, one day, Erastus Smith, by some strange accident or other, fell into Springdale, he liked the look of the place. There were no shops of any consequence, and that made Mr. Smith like it all the better. Business, thought Mr. Smith, would be good there if properly worked up. And possibly some day the place might be discovered by the public, and, if so, what might not come of it?
So it • happened that, not many weeks later, the villagers found to their astonishment that a new store had been opened in their midst, over the door being a large sign bearing the name of Erastus Smith. To them it was a wonderful store. Everything imaginable could be bought there, providing you had the price.
Springdale found its mind and understanding dazzled by the new venture. It also found a few other things as well: for instance, that the world contained more things than it was accustomed to want, previous to Mr. Smith’s arrival. It found fresh uses for its capital. The result was that Mr. Smith discovered he had done nothing foolish in wooing its economic side.
Behold, there came a day when Ezekiah Brown, by another extraordinary accident tumbled into that peaceful bower. Figuratively speaking, Mr. Brown got up, shook himself, rubbed his eyes, and stared.
“Just what I’m looking for,” said Mr. Brown. “Business enough here for two stores, and there’s only one,” soliloquized Mr. Brown. “I’ll think the matter over.” And he did.
Springdale was not used to surprises. One every few years was quite enough for it. The opening of Mr. Smith’s store had taken a lot out of it, and it was now slowly recovering from the shock. But what a thrill and tremor passed over it when it beheld a bran-new store ready for business just opposite Mr. Smith’s, with the name of “Ezekiah Brown” glaring down at every person from over the door. Mr. Brown had been thinking and this was the result of his thoughts.
The appearance of a rival, or competitor, on the scene was viewed by Mr. Smith in no uncertain fashion. At first he could scarcely believe his eyes, though they were a trusty pair. But when a man sees a store staring at him from across the street, and containing the self-same goods as he has in his own, he is quite sure to look upon the thing as a fact: Mr.
Smith soon worked himself into wrath and perspiration over it.
Mr. Brown, however, kept cool. He made a study of Mr. Smith’s customers and began to find out their particular wants. His stock was as similar to Mr. Smith’s as could be. He soon felt he was making an impression. The people came to him out of mere curiosity—to see what himself and store were like. They saw that he was giving as good values as the other. Mr.' Smith was aware that every customer who entered Mr. Brown’s store was a loss to him. Mr. Brown saw that every new client might possibly become, with care and attention, a regular patron. Such are the varied standpoints of merchants. Springdale unanimously declared that Brown had won vengeance this time. Poor Smith felt awful whenever his eyes fell reluctantly on the splendid edifice across the street. It was quite evident that Brown was beginning already to do a roaring trade. The wags, too, filled up his cup of misery by narrating alleged yams which Brown was supposed to be telling all as to what he intended to do in the near future. Smith had to resort to taking powders during these days to help his insomnia. Day by day the smile on Brown’s face was ^expanding. Harry was such a worker that Brown found Jt desirable to leave off work altogether. He understood clearly what the attraction was and did not wish to intrude himself between the attraction and the public. Furthermore, it was so delicious to loll about the street with your pipe in your mouth, knowing that business was all the better for your absence! One evening Smith strolled in to his tea in the height of good humor. When passing through the shop, which was empty, Mary called him. “I beg pardon, Mr. Smith,” said Mary, shyly, “but I-”
Now, Springdale was under no particular obligation to either. Both were absolutely strangers. Neither had any social or commercial connection with the neighborhood. Mr. Smith was a bachelor, but he was on the shady side of fifty. Mr. Brown was also a bachelor, a year or so removed from the half-century, and innocent of hair. Springdale was fickle. The better man would eventually win.
Erastus Smith realized that, and so did Ezekiah Brown. And from that day forward ensued a bitter and prolonged commercial warfare between the competitors!
SMITH MAKES FIRST MOVE.
Heretofore they had been nodding acquaintances. When, each morning, they stood for the first time in their respective doors they were accustomed to formally bow to each other. And one Sunday morning, when leaving church they raised hats to each other in sight of all.
But now all such diplomatic acknowledgments were a thing of the past. They spoke to each other no more. Every attention was given to business and they forgot they wrere human.
The first to draw blood was Mr. Smith. That is to say, he was the first to make any improvements to his store. He had the front of his store considerably enlarged and a fine plate-glass window fitted in. This looked like setting the pace. When the work was completed Springdale walked in and congratulated him. The wags of the village anticipated a great deal of fun out of the rivalry. They told Mr. Smith he was knocking fits out of Brown with his new window. Mr. Smith felt highly delighted with his master stroke. At evening prior to closing hour he would go out into the street and gaze with a great deal of pride at his glorious
new store front. He was aware that Mr. Brown was watching him from across the way and that brought him unspeakable consolation.
Mr. Brown was thunder-struck at Smith’s innovation. Now his rival’s window was large and handsome enough to attract any person to enter and buy. To make matters worse the wags flocked in to tell him that Smith was crowing loudly over his victory. With such innocent remarks he was goaded almost to desperation. For a few days he had to lie down tamely under his defeat. But now that his blood was up he would make the people of Springdale see how fast and fierce Ezekiah Brown could force the pace, after once he set his mind to it.
The two stores as well as every dwelling in Springdale, consisted of a single storey. Soon Mr. Brown summoned skilled workmen from the city, who pounced upon his store, crept into its recesses, leaned out of its windows, and scraped and nailed, and hammered for a whole month. Smith was agog with excitement. The curiosity of Springdale was never in its history at such a dizzy height. Brown said nothing. His workmen could not be bribed into disclosing what they were about. Brown knew that Smith was eyeing him through his window and at frequent intervals he would stroll up and down in front of the dismantled dwelling, with a horribly irritating smile.
In due time the work was finished, the workmen loosed themselves from the building and returned to town. Their labors had completely revolutionized Mr. Brown’s store. Now it was an elaborate and magnificent structure. The window even excelled Smith’s. His name was painted in huge and striking letters of blue and caught the eye forcibly at the end of the village. Above all, the onestorey dwelling had disappeared, and in its place was a building of two storeys, which completely towered over Smith’s across the way.
When he partially recovered, some friends debated with him as to what he intended doing in the face of Brown’s brilliant success.
‘T don’t see nothin’ to do,” replied Mr. Smith, with a sigh, “but build another storey. That’s the only way out of it.”
Accordingly, Mr. Smith summoned the workmen thither, and a rapid transformation took place. Smith was somewhat more cute than he was generally reputed to be. He made no secret of his intentions, though one fact he kept very much in the dark.
“I’m simply adding another storey,” he said. Before it was finished the idea was severely criticized.
“After all, what’s he doing but imitatin’ me?” remarked Brown to a knot of inquirers who had entered his store for the laudable purpose of endeavoring to foment as much disturbance as they could. “Let him add his storey,” went on Brown. “Soon’s it’s done wot’ll we see? Why, just that Smith is equal, not superior. He’s a copying my idea—that’s all.”
But it was even more. When the work was complete, there, sure enough was the additional storey. Both stores now had a similar number of storeys. But Smith’s second one was so high that his store was fully three feet taller than Brown’s.
Poor Brown was beaten again.
BROWN’S NEXT MOVE.
Springdale was so keen on the issue that it allowed itself to be influenced by it in a practical way. The moment Smith’s store was finished it sealed his triumph by turning in a body into Smith’s. Brown was practically deserted. He saw everything depended on his next move.
Great was the excitement one morning when it was discovered that Brown had shut his store and gone to the city. Was he giving up the struggles? Smith walked forth in the presence of a growing crowd of the villagers and stood in front of Brown’s store.
“He’s cut and run for it,” said Smith, dramatically. “You’ll never see him here again, boys, or I’ll eat my hat !”
But Smith was hopelessly in the wrong. The next day Brown was at business as usual. Those who entered his store came back with a remarkable story, which impelled others to go in and see for themselves. Brown had brought back with him a real, live assistant! He was already at work tending the customers, while Brown stood in the door, his thumbs deep in his arm-pits, and that aggravating smile again playing about his unlovely mouth.
Harry MacDonald was the assistant’s name. A good-looking, trim, cheery young fellow, Harry was. His head was well shaped, crowned with brown curls, and a sweet moustache that was already playing havoc. Everyone was charmed with him. He was so genial and so coaxing and so bustling. He was scarcely twentyfour hours in Springdale when every girl within a radius of a mile suddenly found that she wanted something very badly at Brown’s.
Smith did not fulfil his pledge about eating his hat, but soon began to witness a strange phenomenon. All his customers quickly became confined to the male sex. The girls were already raving about Harry. Naturally, of course, none of them would admit it ! Oh, goodness, no. They merely wanted just what Mr. Brown happened to have. That was all. In numbers the girls went into Brown’s. When they bought the article for which they alleged they came they went looking for something else to buy. They would have expended any amount to be able to stay in the store to chat with Harry.
In course of time when Harry got better known the men thought it pleasanter to go to Brown’s. Harry was always so jolly, and had such a nice wit! Again Brown kept away from the place, it was simply Smith versus Harry. And Harry was unquestionably winning at a canter.
But Smith was not yet conquered. A rattling good idea seized hold of him, and he determined to act on it.
To the city went Smith one day. The cause of his going became the raging topic. Nobody could guess. Back came Smith that very night. The moment he opened his door in the morning it was besieged with customers dying with curiosity. Smith had followed his rival’s example. He, too, had a new assistant. But it was not a young man he had brought. No indeed, but a remarkably pretty young lady.
WHAT THE ASSISTANTS DID.
Mary Miles was the name of the pretty new assistant in Smith’s. She was scarcely a day in the place when everybody had taken care to go and have a look at her. This meant that people who had not been in Smith’s for weeks suddenly became customers again.
A charming little body Mary was unanimously voted to be. She was so pretty, and so gentle and so sweetmannered that she won all hearts without delay. Brown was very anxious to see her. He talked to Harry MacDonald so often about her that the young man looked decidedly bored.
Mary had not been in Springdale a week before she was a favorite of the first order. Smith was not long in seeing that he had done the right thing by securing her services. Al-
ready he noticed the depleted till grow heavy once more. Ail the men were flocking to see Mary and left Brown and Harry severely alone.
It was Smith’s turn now to be idle. Fie strolled up and down the single street of the village the whole day long with his briar pipe in his mouth and hands in his
pockets—the very picture of happiness and ease. Mary was a firstclass business girl. She was lively and quick to a degree. The youths of Springdale bought up all Smith’s stock of stationery in one week to pen notes and verses to Mary.
Brown’s state of mind was far from being idle. Cash receipts were falling fast; his female customers after a temporary disloyalty brought about by their desire to see Mary, thronged .back again to him. But he knew well that where a woman in such a case spent a penny, a man would not stop at a sovereign. Day by day he could not help but observe that trade was fast failing. Harry’s efforts were in vain. Poor Brown, by day and by night had real and fanciful nightmares.
The singular part of the whole affair was that Harry MacDonald did not appear to be the least affected by the presence of Mary in Springdale. That was strange, seeing that her success had naturally compromised his own position. His friends asked him had he met her? Harry said no. He hardly ever saw her, indeed, he further averred. The few youths who came into Brown’s were always talking about her. The girls who came in hundreds to Harry were just the same. So that in Brown’s as well as in Smith’s the sole topic was Mary.
So time went on for some months. Brown hardly ever went out, he was so much ashamed. There was some curiosity awakened by extensive alterations going on in a house right in the centre of the village, but, as Smith and Brown stoutly denied all knowledge of it, the curiosity abated.
“Ah, you wish to speak to me, my dear Miss Miles,” said Smith with his best smile.
“Yes, sir; I wish to—to—give you a—a-”
“Give me what, my dear?” interrupted Smith, gallantly endeavoring to allay her confusion.
“A—month’s notice, Mr. Smith!” Marv hung her head as she spoke. Smith shook at the knees.
“W-what, Miss Miles?” he gasped with a wild look.
“A month’s notice, sir,” went on Mary. “I’m sorry to leave you, Mr. Smith, as you have been so kind and good to me. but—I—I am going to be married !”
“Married?” yelled Smith, perspiring freely.
“To whom?” Smith was hardly able to stand.
“To Harry MacDonald, sir, who works for Mr. Brown.”
“Heavens! To MacDonald at Browns?”
“Yes, sir,” replied Mary. “Harry and I are old friends.”
Smith ran into the street to cool himself. He walked along a bit. Looking across, he saw Brown beckoning excitedly to him. Forgetting the past, Smith went forward, his brain in a whirl.
“Have you heard the news, Smith?” cried Brown, who was evidently feeling pretty bad himself.
“What is it, Brown?” said Smith, knowing by instinct what was coming.
“These young people of ours are gettin’ spliced, that’s all. An’ see here Smith. Ye know that house where the alterations were a-goin’ on?”
“They’re a-goin’ to set up shop against us two in that very house !”
“Why didn’t we leave things as they were?”
“Lor’, Smith, why didn’t we?”
And Springdale agreed with them. To-day Springdale knows not Smith or Brown. Harry and Mrs. MacDonald are doing all the business.
The tendency to persevere, to persist in spite of hindrances, discouragements, and impossibilities; it is this that in all things distinguishes the strong soul from the weak.—Carlyle.