Once upon a time, we raised our children in the quintessential Midwestern town of Atwood Illinois.
Just as you would imagine, mom and pop businesses lined Main Street, which of course ran through the center of the town. Only the local bars rivaled the number of neighborhood churches. Even the police department closes up shop on Sunday nights. To this day, it’s still a close-knit community. But it’s been fighting a slow death of poverty for years.
Just a few years ago, the one-and-only grocery store within 15 miles closed its doors. Just this year the community said farewell to their high school with its last Homecoming game–a devastating blow to the spirit of a small town.
When an outside company wanted to help, by bringing in their grocery store, renovating some empty buildings and generating some high-paying jobs the town leadership rejected it flatly. The fat, white good old boys started a letter writing campaign. They whined that this store carried too many ethnic foods–it would not serve a primarily white population. The predominately lower middle-class neighborhoods might see a more diverse, or affluent people move into town. Most of all, it would increase the desirability of the neighborhood, and who wants that?
Apparently these racists would rather buy their milk at the gas station.
Actually, that’s a lie.
That would never happen in Atwood. The town is in trouble. But there is no hope on the horizon, no offer of something as wonderful as a Trader Joe’s offering to be their new neighborhood grocer.
That honor went to a community in Portland. Unfortunately for them, my fairy-tale is their reality. Only the colors have been changed.
According to the AP it all started here:
“The Portland Development Commission had offered a steep discount to the [Trader Joe's] grocer on a parcel of nearly two acres that was appraised at up to $2.9 million: a purchase price of slightly more than $500,000. The lot is at Northeast Alberta Street and Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and has been vacant for years.”
The Portland African American Leadership Forum ran them off saying it would “perpetuate income inequality” and ”increase the desirability of the neighborhood.” Exactly.
How is this a bad thing?
Of course Trader Joe’s had the good sense to not go where they’re not welcome. So the California-based company took their discount health foods and products along with their $10-20/hr clerk jobs elsewhere. Did I mention that their supervisors make $45k-75k and reportedly the store managers bring in six-figures?
The Portland African American Leadership Forum would much rather see empty decaying buildings in their neighborhood than give up their victim card.
In the meantime, farming communities are fading away, left alone to suffer the same fate as coal-mining towns.