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Out of Our Minds
Sunday, March 19, 2006 9:39 PM
Do We Have an Obligation?
Kevin Salwen on Culture

The New York Times Sunday featured a classic conundrum for many communities: The role of small businesses as a neighborhood gentrifies. Under the headline 'Now Booming, Not Burning, The Bronx Fears a Downside,' the Times piece focused largely on the South Bronx, where a new Yankees stadium, convention center and the borough's first major hotel may all be coming on the heels of more generic gentrification.

Like in many communities, the Bronx's mom-and-pop store owners are worried about the planned construction of big-box stores. After all, those owners argue, it has been the small businesspeople who have anchored the neighborhoods during the rough times of high crime. (And in the South Bronx, high is very high.)

The question is whether these business owners are owned anything by the rest of us as citizens or as governments. Is there a quid pro quo for hanging in there and keeping the Bronx running for these many years? Or when better selection comes along with the national chains, should there be a laissez faire, 'it's good for the consumer' attitude?


Catherine howell - 3/20/2006 10:35:29 PM
Chris, you make a good point about size not being a predictor or reflection of good, but I've got to disagree from there forward. These stores did more than just sell product. They held together the economic pulse of a neighborhood. Without them, many would have moved to goodness-knows-where and the crime/dilapidation/desertion would have been worse.

We all know that the lower and lower-middle classes need shops to frequent just as the upper classes do. And they need them often without the opportunity at mobility. (Ever try to bring 3 bags of canned goods, milk and frozen foods on the bus?)

Those retailers almost deserve a special class, possibly the same kind of charitable outlook we do for nonprofits. They work on multiple levels and the unbridled capitalism argument works only on one of those.
Chris Yeh - 3/20/2006 3:28:36 PM
Being there simply isn't enough.

If you've been making money simply because you're the only game in the neighborhood, andthe big box retailers are coming, you are toast, and rightly so.

If you've woven yourself into the fabric of the neighborhood, and offer a different value proposition than the big box, then you should be able to survive.

Just being small doesn't make you good, just like being large doesn't make you bad.

I'd rather go to an In N Out than a random burger shack, though I'd prefer the random burger shack to McDonalds.
Hall - 3/20/2006 11:12:30 AM
Sorry to be a hard-ass on this one, but consumers and governments have no obligation -- zero -- to these for-profit companies. They stayed in business not for community-good but to make a living. Calling them mom and pops makes them into some kind of special class.

If they cannot compete, that's unfortunate, but that's what capitalism is, warts and all. Do we really want to be in the business of subsidizing businesses? I know some people will write back that we do that already with incentives and other 'corporate welfare.' I cannot disagree on that front -- those are b.s. benefits that should be killed, not expanded to new classes of recipients.


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