Recently, a friend on Facebook asked this somewhat quintessential question: Why don’t black folks own businesses in their own neighborhoods? One commenter to this status mentioned that it may be because we (as in black folks) have forgotten to help our own as we have achieved higher and higher financial goals and wealth.
I myself personally believe (and I mentioned this in a comment myself) that black folks went through a period where some of the business types in predominantly black neighborhoods were unwanted and unneeded in their eyes. I’ve even had someone who remembers urban renewal in Greensboro tell me that they willingingly tore down the neighborhood businesses in hopes of something better.
However, in many cases, that something better never came. I am also cautious of some modern “revitalizations”, especially when the lots have been sitting empty for several years with no vision and no purpose.
Meanwhile, I applaud those who took up the banner of preserving the history, the commerce, and the tradition of ethnic enclaves, of all cultures. I even applaud those of other cultures who have come in and filled up the vacant spaces, either with businesses and services more geared to their cultures. I especially love if they maintained the original businesses quality and culture, and improved the original operations.
When community and culture and affordability are respected, then I don’t think it matters who owns the corner store.
We underrated, we educated
The corner was our time when times stood still
And gators and snakes gangs and yellow and pink
And colored blue profiles glorifying that…
The corner was our magic, our music, our politics
Fires raised as tribal dancers and
war cries that broke out on different corners
Power to the people, black power, black is beautiful…
The corner was our Rock of Gibraltar, our Stonehenge
Our Taj Mahal, our monument,
Our testimonial to freedom, to peace and to love
Down on the corner… Common featuring The Last Poets, The Corner, 2005
Yet, when businesses on these proverbial corners completely forget their legacy and their obligation for service, then they fail. If a shop owner follows its teenage customers instead of offering jobs, then they have failed. If women are looked upon as strange invasive creatures and vice-versa for males, then they have failed. Yes, we need safe space to be ourselves as men and women, but at the end of the day, there still comes a time for mutual respect. Elders should shop for free. What about GLBTQ folks and their needs? It’s this vision of the corner store or business as a service that owners need to undertake.
Ultimately, I think that this obligation is what makes it hard for people to maintain such businesses over a long haul. These businesses are more than stores, barbers or beauty salons. They are sounding boards, mini town squares and city halls. If you are not ready to be a de facto mayor or community leader, then you best take your business elsewhere. I believe this is why these businesses fall onto those who either want this charge or those who have no other choice but to run this type of business. I think some black leaders (and I’m sure there are others of other ethnic enclaves who feel the same way) who wanted to run a business that would not become every inch of their lives.
So does it matter who owns the corner store? Absolutely. Yet, it’s not a question of what the owners look like on the outside, it’s a question of what they believe on the inside about their community and their business.