Wall Street Journal 
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Siblings Georgia, Jimmy and John Roussos have spent most of their lives working in the kitchen of the restaurant their father opened in 1954. The eatery managed to survive a hurricane and other setbacks, but it wasn’t until this August that the recession took its toll, forcing Roussos Restaurant in Daphne, Ala., to permanently shut its doors.
After months of slow sales, family businesses are being forced to close, ending legacies and leaving behind a wake of sad customers and loyal employees. “Some family businesses that were just hanging on have said it’s time to get out,” says Dann Van Der Vliet, director of the Vermont Family Business Initiative at the University of Vermont.
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An estimated 90% of U.S. businesses are family-owned or controlled, from traditional small businesses to a third of Fortune 500 firms, according to the Small Business Administration. Hard data are hard to come by on the number of small family-controlled enterprises that have closed in this recession, but experts say the prolonged slump has hurt a significant number. About 4.3 million businesses with 19 or fewer employees closed during the fourth quarter of 2007 through the fourth quarter of 2008, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
These businesses, often steeped in tradition and not as flexible to change, tend not to have formal plans in place to respond to crisis. “They’ve seen reductions in top line revenue that they just can’t react fast enough to,” says Beth Wood, assistant vice president of market development and family-business advocacy with MassMutual. Problems securing credit in this recession have also prevented some family businesses from getting the funding they need, she adds.
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