Jon Gabriel at Ricochet had the story of something which probably needed to happen, even though the result was negative…
Trader Joe’s wanted to build a new store in Portland, Oregon. Instead of heading to a tony neighborhood downtown or towards the suburbs, the popular West Coast grocer chose a struggling area of Northeast Portland.
The company selected two acres along Martin Luther King Blvd. that had been vacant for decades. It seemed like the perfect place to create jobs, improve customer options and beautify the neighborhood. City officials, the business community, and residents all seemed thrilled with the plan. Then some community organizers caught wind of it.
The fact that most members of the Portland African-American Leadership Forum didn’t live in the neighborhood was beside the point. “This is a people’s movement for African-Americans and other communities, for self-determination,” member Avel Gordly said in a press conference. Even the NAACP piled on, railing against the project as a “case study in gentrification.” (The area is about 25 percent African-American.)
After a few months of racially tinged accusations and angry demands, Trader Joe’s decided it wasn’t worth the hassle. “We run neighborhood stores and our approach is simple,” a corporate statement said. “If a neighborhood does not want a Trader Joe’s, we understand, and we won’t open the store in question.”
In other words, Trader Joe’s wasn’t interested in being shaken down by the local scumbag Robin Hood Wannabe crowd. They were going to put a store into one of the “food deserts” our First Lady constantly talks about, and were immediately set upon by the people who run the food deserts.
But Trader Joe’s is about selling groceries, not paying extortion money. And there are lots of neighborhoods which would be happy to have them without making demands.
This is the entertaining part of the story…
Hours after Trader Joe’s pulled out, PAALF leaders arrived at a previously scheduled press conference trying to process what just happened. The group re-issued demands that the now-cancelled development include affordable housing, mandated jobs based on race, and a small-business slush fund. Instead, the only demand being met is two fallow acres and a lot of anger from the people who actually live nearby.
“All of my neighbors were excited to have Trader Joe’s come here and replace a lot that has always been empty,” said Nghi Tran. “It’s good quality for poor men.” Like many residents, Tran pins the blame on PAALF. “They don’t come to the neighborhood cleanups,” he said. “They don’t live here anymore.”
“There are no winners today,” said Adam Milne, owner of an area restaurant. “Only missed tax revenue, lost jobs, less foot traffic, an empty lot and a boulevard still struggling to support its local small businesses.” The store was to be built by a local African American-owned construction company.
One feels for the people in that Portland neighborhood who were looking forward to having a Trader Joe’s nearby and the increase in commerce it would represent. But in order to keep the community organizers from running off new business, you’ve got to run off the community organizers. And while the accusation has been made that the PAALF top brass doesn’t live in that neighborhood anymore, it’s quite apparent the local politicians and other Powers That Be were not in a position to pry them off the Trader Joe’s folks.
That makes the locals who were victimized by the attempted shakedown something akin to the Iraqis whose houses took collateral damage in the two wars the U.S. fought against Saddam Hussein, or the Japanese who were firebombed in the World War II raids. You’re not specifically the bad guy, and it might not be your fault that you’re suffering, but you are guilty of allowing yourself to be under the power of someone evil who brings that damage down on you.
Too many bad neighborhoods in America can be described that way. And the Trader Joe’s story shows how it has to be handled, if the shakedown artists are ever going to go away.