Monday, July 31, 2006

Paradise By The Dashboard Lights and the Big Box---The Theory

Frequent reader Paradise left a comment about my last post concerning the new Walgreens that opened around the corner from my home.

While his (or her) theory is sound and very well thought out, unfortunately the intent of my post was to illustrate the lack of goods and services in my immediate neighborhood and throughout Woodlawn.

In short P., if a Target or Wal-Mart plopped down in the middle of Stony Island right now, I’d do the happiest of the happy dances.

Normally I don’t shill for the man. Both superstores are well oiled corporations that know how to squeeze a buck out of everything they do.

But Woodlawn, and in my opinion most of the south and west sides of the city, are in an entirely different situation than the north side and most of the suburbs.

I think it’s nice to wax on about the “unsustanibility” of big box retailers and how their car dependent focus affects everything from the “walkability” of a city to the effect on mass transit. The truth of the matter is that affordable quality shopping options are few and far between where I live.

I used to be the biggest Wal-Mart hater you could find. From what I’ve read, they are not the best corporate citizen and they tend to treat their workers poorly.

I railed against the machine until Wal-Marts started plopping down in and near my hometown of South Bend, IN.

I continued to rail as my sister found her way to their doors and started to shop there.

I held my nose aloft until my sister put it in terms I could understand:

“I can’t feed three kids on principle. Unless you’re going to start buying my groceries, shut your cakehole.”

Whomp there it is.

I know P. is right. I’m smart enough to see the forest through the trees but corporate disdain is for those of you who have options. When you have none (or fewer than most) those absolutes aren’t so absolute.

1 comment:

Paradise said...

Dear Woodlawn neighbor,
I sympathize with the plight of people trying to live carless in areas bereft of local shopping, and I would like to see more Walgreen's and other chains servicing these areas. We could use more at this end of town, as well.

We need to clamor for changes in public policy, that will foster the type of urban development that is clustered around transit, and geared to walkability and easy access by transit, for right now most municipalities actively promote the type of development that turns urban nabes like ours into retail deserts while fostering carcentric development away from transit.

I mean to tell you, I hate lugging a trolley on the 215 because there is no Walgreens or CVS on a nearby corner. At least Dominics delivers.

I wrote to point out that people are not buying any improvement in comfort and convenience, or saving money, by buying an expensive piece of machinery to save 3 cents on a loaf of bread, and to bolster your contention that the savings realized thereby are not worth the time and trouble, and that carless urbanites are much better served by smaller retail outlets that are easily reached on bus or foot.

I don't want anyone to think I totally oppose the big box stores under all circumstances.

I don't. If Target,Best Buy, and the rest can show the same respect for community concerns regarding scale, appearance, and overall fit with the area that all other developers are required to honor, then, they can come. I saw a Target in downtown Minneapolis that was a small, 2 story store that was extremely attractive and an asset to the neighborhood. There was an escalator for carts, but there was no town-sized parking lot.

I can see why an area currently ill-served by retail would want these places, and on another blog, I wrote that the 'living wage' ordinance is an act of insanity, and will only drive larger businesses to the suburbs.

I have seen both Target and Best Buy open stores that are attractive and scaled to the surrounding neighborhood, and I believe it is tragic to blow any business out of the city who could be employing someone otherwise jobless at anything over the minimum.

I would most of all ask that they pay their own way, which means none of the tax abatements and other goodies you and I pay for in our rents and property taxes. Walmart and Target almost will not build without getting these kinds of taxpayer funded goodies.

Never in history have retail concerns of any sort been good payers. My first full-time job was at a major dept. store, and it did not pay enough to support me in my own apt. THese area and always have been low--skilled jobs for beginners, and I don't think that will ever change.

I only ask that they obey the labor laws, which Walmart is notorious for flouting. Illegal immigrants, unpaid overtime off the clock, gender discrimination... you name it, they practice it.

I want to say in conclusion that I love your blog, and have followed your progress in your condo with great interest. Congratulations of having overcome so many really monster problems visited on you by your developer, and most of all, endless thanks for educating the public on the pitfalls that they may encounter, and how to handle them.

Your terrace photos are beautiful