Friday, July 10, 2009

Be careful what you wish for

See this record? It's by a band called Bitter Tears, and it was pressed by a label that also put out The Coctails, Archer Prewitt, Tall Dwarfs, and others. Their entire operation just moved around the corner from our house.

You have to believe me when I tell you: This is unprecedented.

That same block features a currency exchange, a parking lot, a taqueria, a shuttered banquet hall, and several vacant storefronts in a row.

But these new neighbors have decided to plunk a record label in the heart of what even the most objective would call a wasteland. Not only will they expand their successful warehouse and distribution business, but they also plan to open a full-service record store that specializes in music that you (if you were me) would actually like to listen to. My sweetie had a tour of their warehouse this week, and when I asked him what kind of stuff they carried, he said, "Basically my entire record collection." He may have swooned.

So this is all good news, right?

A viable, longstanding business willing to take a chance on this corridor can only be a welcome development. And heck, who doesn't want a great record store right around the corner? Right? Right?

So why do I have such misgivings?

I'll tell you why, but don't spread it around. My cred in certain circles may be on the line.

What I love about my neighborhood, and what I've always loved about this place, is the way different populations so gracefully and intentionally intersect. As long as John and I have been here, and certainly long before that, young and old, Latino and white, working people and artistic dabblers, have formed an easy cohabitation.

You see it in the restaurants, the grocery stores, or just in conversations among neighbors. John can get a veggie tamale at the same place I get my carnitas torta. Our supermarket carries lard and chicharrones in one aisle, organic milk in another. Native Spanish speakers try out their English while native English speakers muddle through their Spanish. For most of us, including the Latino families who have every right to feel encroached upon, there's a premium placed on that interchange.

But this record distributor, I have to say, is a very different animal. The other night we attended a zoning meeting at their building, and the owners seem like nice folks. Amazingly nice. And they're doing such a good and important thing for the area. Truth be told, we'll probably lose our retirement savings to this place and have a damn fine time doing it. We'll probably know the proprieters by name in no time. We may even have them over for an occasional margarita on our porch.

But this is the first sign I've seen, at least in our neck of the woods, of a new business destined to be monochromatic. And while I can of course name at least a dozen people I'll bump into browsing those bins at the shop, I can also name a dozen that I won't.

Without a doubt, there's still much to put this in the win column, and I'm sure I'll be singing the place's praises and doing my part to keep them afloat. But deep down, something will always nag at me, and I'll probably feel better and cleaner about the money I'm spending across the street at Tony's Certisaver Supermarket, even if it's on fancy, elitist, organic half and half.


Berdawn said...

I know what you mean...while I won't be spending much time there, the piercing business and the skateboard store that have hung on the past year or so are not serving too many of the people who _live_ in my 'hood.

leslie said...

Perhaps, like the grocer, they could diversify their stock to appeal to a wider audience. Do you think they would employ people from the neighborhood? That would be a good step.

All in all (myself no longer being one who spends money on music much), I would say that at least the grocery store isn't transforming into a niche market. But maybe it's okay if some businesses do?

Christy said...

Good to hear from you again, Berdawn! Sounds like we're living parallel lives in some ways.

And it's so funny you ask that, Leslie. I had a whole other paragraph about the owners' lack of understanding about the neighborhood, but it seemed mean-spirited to include it. At one moment during the meeting, e.g., a Latina mother of a teen asked if they'd be creating jobs for area youth. The reply was, 'Sure. If they're knowledgeable about the kinds of records we sell.' (Translation: probably not your kid). I find myself wanting a couple hours with these folks to say, 'Ok, here's how to do this right.' But alas, my meddling will get me nowhere :-). It'll be interesting to see if they ultimately find a market in this neighborhood. Diversification might be thrust upon them, which might be no bad thing.

Berdawn said...

I think there are a lot of people who are having this sort of experience. Cities are becoming a little more vibrant as people look for an antidote to whatever their upbringing (usually rural or suburban) and there is whole cohort that has come of age without the same level of xenophobia as their parents. Of course, most of American cultural history is an experiment of one sort or another! I came across through a series of links from Cake Wrecks, so who knows where anything leads some days.

On a (mostly) good note, I read this (now defunct) blog a while back and while some of the content makes me delighted he is not my neighbor, the final post is a happy ending.

Christy said...

Berdawn, did you mean to send a link?

berdawn said...

of course. it's just as bad as when I reference an attachment in an email!

Christy said...

Wow, Berdawn, thanks for sending the link. It's reassuring, at the very least, to know that change is possible (however incremental it may be).

Lynn Stevens said...

Better a business than a vacant storefront, and as you point out, we have many other vacant storefronts that other businesses that may cater to a different market may choose to occupy.