Small businesses take a stand on marriage equality

Three independent businesswomen stand up for marriage for all

Cynthia Daube of Daube’s Bakery, left, Millie Adelsheim, with her husband, Dan Marshall, and daughter, Ellie, of Peapods, above, and Sue Welna of Welna II Hardware, have all taken a stand as a business for marriage equality.

Sue Welna
Welna II Hardware
Sue Welna and her husband, Jim, have run their family business Welna II Hardware in the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis for almost 14 years.

Why are you personally supportive of marriage equality?
When I was in my early 20s, I met a very committed couple of women and they became dear friends of mine. I came from a sheltered background and everything was so matter of fact. [My new friends] were a “family,” too. And from there it was everywhere I looked. I saw that these loving relationships exist in very different ways than I grew up knowing about. Our kids were babysat by a wonderful young woman who is now a wonderful young man.

Why take this step of taking a stand through your business?
One of the joys of being a small business owner is that you get to make decisions for your business and that someone else doesn’t have to approve decisions. My personal beliefs can be reflected in the business that I own. It is wonderful. It gives a degree of freedom.

Why is marriage equality a business issue?
Creating a hostile atmosphere for this part of the population would [not be good for the] business climate in Minnesota. There is talent, productivity and creativity there and to discourage that would be foolish. [Some of our] current and former employees have been part of this community. To say that I will support something that will hinder my access to some really excellent employees would be poor business sense.

The other side is our customers. A fair number of our customers are gay and lesbian. I have never had anyone comment negatively and so I haven’t encountered situations where it has harmed our business. If anything, I think it has helped us.

And I know that we have a fair share of customers who have strong feelings against this. If we did a ton of work with [customers for whom that was a barrier] we would have to agree to disagree. I am not afraid of losing customers. That is not an issue at all.

I think modeling is more likely to have impact on people who are strongly opposed than trying to influence through argument. At least by being clear in our business, we provide a potential opportunity for someone who teeters or has questions or who is not sure.

Millie Adelsheim
Peapods, a 15-year-old children’s toy and clothing store in the St. Anthony Park neighborhood of St. Paul, is owned by Millie Adelsheim, with her husband, Dan Marshall. They sell products for kids that are made of natural materials by other small, family businesses.

Why is the marriage amendment an important issue to you? Why do you, as a business, support marriage equality?

To me, to our family, it is a civil rights and a human rights issue. [A constitutional amendment] is a strong, strong tool for government that should not be used to enshrine hatred or bigotry.

We are straight as can be, but we have gay and lesbian people in our family, on our street, in our church, in our circle of friends.

In some ways our business is an extension of who are as people, but I am aware we need to tread lightly.

What did you expect the impact to be on your business?
We were aware that it would have a cost for our business. We believed it would be a cost we were willing to bear, that it would not be overwhelming or huge. It was the right thing to do, but if I believed it would have truly catastrophic consequences for our business I don’t know what we would have done.

We are aware that people don’t want to watch us up on a soap box every day. We try to be very selective. People respect our store and that’s wonderful and we value that, but this is one [issue] where we couldn’t be quiet.

We are excited to see big businesses-like General Mills-that are willing to get into this. We are hoping that once smaller businesses see that, they’ll be more willing to take a stand and have a voice in this.

What feedback have you gotten from customers?
Feedback [on Facebook] was positive. People said they thought it was a courageous thing to do. But I don’t even know how courageous it is. We have had some who are not OK with it and let us know and we have to assume there are more. It’s a cost we are OK with. In the store we have a [pledge to vote no sign up]. I only know of one specific family who saw [that] and put their purchases back on the shelf and walked out because they were so offended.

Do you see an affinity with this issue as a store that specializes in safe products for children?
I started our store when our daughter was 18 months old, selling the baby sling I was using. [The business] has always been an expression of who we were as a family, and this is part of that same expression.

When we have talked with customers about it, beyond our personal feelings, we’ve talked about how it would not be the right thing for Minnesota, how we feel that marriage benefits families and marriage benefits children and that should be available to as many families and children as possible.

Cynthia Daube
Daube’s Bakery
Cynthia Daube, of Daube’s Bakery in Rochester, Minn., manages three establishments. Known as a “big bakery in a small town,” Daube’s has been providing wedding cakes and other treats for 25 years.

Why is the marriage amendment an important issue to you?

I’ve learned that this is not a personal choice but a state of being. It seems to me that accepting who we are and having everyone around us accept who we are is the greatest gift we can give one another.

I realized that this didn’t take away from my own marriage one whit. It was not a negative for me. It was a positive for someone else. Why would I want to take that away [from someone] when I have had that benefit for 45 years?

Why do you connect this issue to your business?
[I think we need to] stand up for what we believe in and risk something for the greater good. You need to stand up as a business, as a greater group. I think signing up as a business gets a bigger public airing. If not now, when? After I sell my business I don’t have the same impact. I believe in taking these kinds of steps.

Is this the first time your business has taken a public stand on an issue?
My husband has been a very visible Democrat so I am identified as a Democrat because he is. Democrats have used my business as a place for gathering and making announcements and I have been willing to do that. If Republicans asked to use my business for a forum I probably would say yes. It is important for us to hear everyone. We are all in it together.

How have your customers responded?
Most people love it but some [customers] did not come back. Some of the people just say, “I don’t agree with you.” I hire people of every color and race and creed and sexual orientation and sometimes that is not good for my business but I made that decision.

Have you considered that it might be good for business?
I’d like to think that people would come because of my taking a stand on this issue. I think there may be some and I’d love that to be true, but I think people choose not to do something because of what a corporation does.

Was this a difficult decision for you?
I did not weigh [what the consequences would be]. For me it was a no brainer. I know so many [gays and lesbians] that I simply felt that it was the right thing to do.

I think we all have to stand together. That is why [the statewide organization supporting marriage rights for all] is called Minnesotans United.

FFI: Minnesotans United, www.Mnunited.org