It was the winter of 4th grade when I was accompanying my mother down the milk aisle at my neighborhood Gelson’s Market and caught sight of a glistening, glass bottle of chocolate milk with a happy, smiling cow and the delightful tagline “Milk so fresh, the cow doesn’t know it’s missing.” Seeing nothing else but a sea of dull, plastic or cardboard jugs from the usual national brands, I was eager to inject some color and quirky tradition into my life—thus began my affair with Broguiere’s, a Montebello dairy long celebrated for its eggnog, chocolate milk, and commemorative bottles. Through the remainder of the year, I did my best to collect the special bottles for each of California’s 21 missions in what was a largely successful bid to gain extra credit points for my project on Mission San Juan Bautista. This relationship has continued throughout my life, culminating, most recently, in my post-adolescent ascendance from chocolate milk to eggnog. To me, Broguiere’s — established in 1920 and still a family-owned business — is as much a symbol of California as the palm trees lining the flats of Beverly Hills and the mighty redwoods standing watch over the state’s northern expanses.
Imagine my confusion when Gelson’s announced that Broguiere’s would be shutting down — with milk sales brisk and social media abuzz, what could be forcing this otherwise vigorous business off the market?
Large corporations like Kraft and Nestle have always eaten into sales, but owner Ray Broguiere says that state and local regulations are making continued business untenable.
“The state, county, city, it’s hard to do business if you’re in manufacturing,” he said. “I’m older, and it’s tougher to roll with the punches. They keep coming out of Sacramento. You have the water issues, air issues and minimum wage, and that factors into your workers’ compensation too.”
Apparently, I must have been unalone in holding Broguiere’s to a high regard not only as a dairy but as a cultural institution. Several days later, thanks to hundreds of phone calls and posts on social media from loyal customers, Ray and his son are exploring options to secure Broguiere’s future.
“Three days ago there was no chance,” he said. “But the people coming through, and the phone calls, it’s changed things around. My son’s thinking has changed.”
A final decision is yet to have been made, but the talk of closure has brought Ray into contact with other farmers and small producers who believe that the California regulatory environment is rendering them unable to compete against larger California corporations, let alone producers in more business-friendly states. With any luck, the attention generated by Broguiere’s now uncertain demise will help spur regulatory overhaul that will allow small producers to remain on their feet.
With Broguiere’s future uncertain, the situation highlights a growing and disturbing trend of small businesses being forced out of California by a state government more intent on regulating targeted businesses to death in the name of political expediency than in creating an atmosphere where businesses small and large can compete and thrive.
However, what should one expect out of a state in which voters voluntarily and overwhelmingly choose to pass anti-business ballot propositions? Proposition 12, passed by California voters in November 2018, established minimum space requirements for the raising of chickens, pork, and veal, and bans the sale of meats and poultry that do not meet state space requirements. Making such rapid changes is hardly financially feasible when American farmers and ranchers have weathered a 45% drop in income between 2013 and 2017. As much as the plight of domesticated animals may pull at the heartstrings of voters, we must keep in mind the struggle of business owners straining to keep their companies afloat and families fighting to keep fresh food on the table. Larger producers have the freedom and ability to summon the vast amounts of capital needed to remain in compliance with state regulations, or even relocate and continue business elsewhere, but companies like Broguiere’s often have only one option: shutting down.
The exodus and closure of California businesses should be discomforting for residents of a state that relies heavily on income and corporate taxes to stay afloat, a highly volatile system that is especially prone to “boom and bust” cycles. More than half of California’s income tax receipts come from the top 1% of taxpayers, and when corporations leave, so do their employees; between 2007 and 2016, the state suffered a net loss of one million residents to domestic migration, and Spectrum Location Services, a consulting firm that has been tracking the exit of businesses out of the Golden State, estimates that as many as 10,000 businesses left California for other states between 2005 and 2015.
The adoption of anti-business, anti-wealth practices has only accelerated as the current economic expansion continues—indeed, California’s governor has even called for taxes on drinking water and text messages. As government control of industries and individuals becomes more pervasive, the cost of living—41% higher than the national average—is rapidly, for many, becoming too much to bear. With 63% of millennials, the state’s future, currently planning on leaving California, it seems as if the Golden State has managed to kill its golden goose.
It brings me no great pleasure to see the small, everyday treasures that enrich our lives and tie us to identities of place and belonging vanish under a regulatory onslaught, but leaving is not the solution. Should Broguiere’s fade into memory, should we continue to lose more and more of what gives us the joy of living in this fine state, we must change minds and be heard, not retreat to the likes of Texas and Nevada with our tails tucked behind our legs. In protecting our own interests—in keeping government out—society as a whole benefits from cheaper living, greater choice, and unfettered freedom in the paradise that is California. Small businesses like Broguiere’s are the canaries in the coal mine, but instead of retreat, we must stand and fight to protect not only our rights but those of our less-enlightened fellow citizens. California, our home, is worth it.