Should the Devon Community Market Continue?

After three years of community indifference, lackluster vendor sales, and vendor recruitment and retention difficulties, the West Ridge Chamber of Commerce has decided to involve the community in planning the 2016 market.  That meeting will be held on Wednesday, October 21, at 6:30  p.m. in the lower level meeting room at Devon Bank, 6445 N. Western Avenue.

This reflects well on Farid Muhummad, the Market’s new manager, hired late last Spring, far too late to do much about the 2015 Market. How far he can go to implement community suggestions is another matter, particularly if those suggestions involve the kind of major changes required if the Market is to succeed.

A reader recently wrote (see Comments on my September 16 post) that former Ald. Bernie Stone admitted scrapping the original farmers market because of complaints from one of the largest grocers on Devon that the market was cutting into his business. With the election of a new alderman in 2011, the farmers market was recreated in its present form. Community markets are designed to showcase local businesses and can be very successful, for example, the Argyle Community Market; many of these community markets feature farmers as well.

But it’s clear that the concept is wrong for Devon Avenue.  I believe the Devon Community Market has been a casualty of both the ongoing tension over economic control of Devon Avenue and its political ramifications as well as the recurrent blather about the street’s “international shopping.”  There are deep divisions within the community about the transformation of Devon Avenue into destination shopping for Indo-Americans and the loss of its historic role as a shopping district for the entire community. The street is also a major disappointment because of its lack of commercial diversity. 

My survey of Devon’s businesses reveals that most stores fall into only four categories: sari shop, cell phone store, grocery/supermarket, and beauty shop. The kind of shopping found in other diverse neighborhoods–cheese shops, clothing boutiques, antique stores, or shops featuring the work of local artists–doesn’t exist on Devon Avenue. There is no merchandise mix that would attract shoppers.  And with grocery stores on every block of Devon, there is no location where a farmers market would not be in conflict with at least one local business. Therefore, the community market concept is doomed to fail on Devon Avenue.

Could a market located elsewhere in the ward succeed?  While Devon is overloaded with groceries, other areas (Western or Touhy Avenues, for instance) just might welcome and support a community or farmers market. 

And I think this is where we should begin. What kind of market does the community want, and where should it be located?

 

 

 

 

 

 

India Day Organizers Stick It to Residents Again

This morning shortly after 6 a.m. the noisy set-up for the India Day celebration began in the Republic Bank parking lot. Once again, there will be an over-amplified hours-long concert. Once again, political muscle–and money–have triumphed over common decency. Once again, the event’s organizers have openly expressed their contempt for nearby residents. This being Saturday, neither the DCASE offices nor the alderman’s office can be reached, and since both signed off on this disrespectful production it’s doubtful either would stop it.

Part of the DCASE application asks about noise and its control: “Will electronic sound amplification equipment or a public address system be used at the event? If yes, Indicate, on the Site Plan, the location of the stages and sound systems, the location and direction of all speakers, and the proximity to residential addresses.” The application also asks for the hours during which the amplified noise will occur, and what plans the organizers have for controlling the noise. I don’t know what the organizers told DCASE, but they set up their soundstage directly across the alley from residential housing. Were the organizers, DCASE staff, and the alderman indifferent to the placement of the soundstage?  Yep. It’s not outside their homes.

Completed audience and soundstage set-up for 2015 India Day celebration in Republic Bank parking lot. Note that soundstage is directly in front of residential housing, separated only by an alley.

Final set-up for audience and soundstage for 2015 India Day celebration in Republic Bank parking lot. Note that soundstage is directly in front of residential housing, separated only by an alley.

Audience seats set up facing residential housing on Washtenaw. Sound stage and amplifiers are in far northeast corner of the parking lot.

Audience seats set up facing residential housing on Washtenaw. Sound stage and amplifiers are in far northeast corner of the parking lot.

Soundstage being erected in far northeast corner of parking lot.

Soundstage being erected in far northeast corner of parking lot.

Can you imagine an audience area and sound stage being set up outside the alderman’s home? Or anywhere in her end of the neighborhood? Do you think the organizers of this event would tolerate this outside their homes? Of course not. It’s something the powerful and politically-connected impose on others but wouldn’t tolerate themselves.

Last year’s celebration was handled in the same way. This year, too, there was no advance notice to the residents. No publicity of any kind. Oh, wait. There were posters in some storefronts along Devon that advertised the parade and stated that the Mela (party) would take place in Warren Park beginning at 2:30 p.m. Warren Park?

Look closely at the poster. Just left of center it clearly states that the mela will be held in Warren Park. Did the residents of that pricey area complain? Would the noise be too much for the golfers? Or was it a feint, with the fest planned for the parking lot all along? A required part of the application is a letter from the alderman stating her awareness of plans for the event; the application has to be submitted 45 days prior to the event. That makes it clear that this event was never intended for Warren Park, nor did its organizers have any intention of notifying nearby residents that it would occur in the parking lot again this year. After all, it’s not like the residents on Washtenaw and Fairfield and surrounding areas north and south of Devon have anything to say about being blasted out of their homes for an entire day. Residents don’t matter.

Republic Bank has repeatedly broken its promise to the residents of Fairfield and Washtenaw that its parking lot would be just that–a parking lot, not a concert venue. A couple of years ago, when I complained directly to the alderman about the use of the parking lot for musical events, she looked me right in the eye and said she’d tolerate the noise if it were for the good of the community. I suggested we hold the next concert outside her home. Here’s the current scorecard:

Musical events held outside Silverstein home, past four years:  0
Musical events held outside my home, past four years: 23

The organizers of this event would not accept such disrespect from the eighty percent of West Ridge that is not Indian. Indeed, any and all criticism is immediately denounced as racist and intolerant. But for the India Day organizers to disrespect the non-Indian community? That’s a different story.

The big India Day celebrations and parades this year will take place in the suburbs, in Schaumburg and Naperville, with events also scheduled in Lisle and Hoffman Estates. It may well be that we’ll be seeing an end to the disruption demanded by events like this held on Devon and residential side streets–the bus reroutes, the sidewalk closings, the street shut down for hours for a fast blast of tacky floats, some of which aren’t even identified. As the neighborhood evolves, it may outgrow the notion that we need events like this to draw tourists to businesses that don’t want neighborhood residents as customers. We are currently witnessing the slow death of exclusionary retailing on Devon, and this annual event may also be in its death throes.

To willfully disregard the impact of an event like this on residents is wrong. The Silverstein are counting political contributions, not defending the right of residents to be undisturbed in their own homes. The alderman should serve as a buffer between event organizers and residents who will be directly affected by noise, traffic, and garbage problems. If any such event were scheduled for the area north of Pratt, there would be a community meeting with the event organizers to discuss protecting the rights and property of the residents. Those of us who live closest to Devon don’t get such service. For two years in a row, information about this event has deliberately been kept from that part of the neighborhood most affected by it.

The Federation of Indian Associations (FIA) of Chicago should be ashamed of itself for treating members of the West Ridge community with such arrogance and disrespect. So should the alderman, and the management of Republic Bank of Chicago.

For a look at last year’s event, click here for pictures and here for story.

It’s Just a Parking Lot. Part II. India Day Celebration

Main seating area.

Main seating area. A couple hundred people ate here and sat here and left the place filthy. The organizers didn’t bother to clean up. The alderman’s office and the sponsoring organization for this event both failed to tell the residents that such an event had been booked right outside our homes.

 

Main seating area after party.

Main seating area after party. It’s hard to believe that anyone would leave such a mess. On the other hand, most of the party-goers don’t live here, so what do they care?

A feast for rats.

A feast for rats. Bad enough that the party’s organizers didn’t clean up, but neither did Republic Bank. This mess was untouched from Saturday afternoon until early Tuesday afternoon, when the parking lot was cleaned for the next day’s community market.

More food garbage for rats.

More food garbage for rats. Again, how could event organizers leave this behind? And why didn’t the Bank clean it up?

Food trash left inside parking lot along Devon Avenue fence.

Food trash left inside parking lot along Devon Avenue fence. The organizers didn’t see this, either.

Performing area trash left behind.

Performing area trash left behind. Even the performers disrespected the residents.

Empty boxes dumped inside lot along Devon Avenue.

Empty boxes dumped inside lot along Devon Avenue. There were more boxes like this on the alley side. They weren’t needed anymore, so why bother with them?

Celebrants left this garbage in front of my home.

Celebrants left this garbage in front of my home. This mess came from a family of three. The lady of the house dropped the soda can out the van window while I stood asking her husband if he really intended to throw two water bottles on my parkway. He did.

Cake tossed on the ground.

Cake tossed on the ground. Cake packs like this were everywhere and left exactly where they’d fallen or been tossed.

A lot of this trash blew straight down Devon and down Washtenaw as well as into the alley.

A lot of this trash blew straight down Devon and down Washtenaw as well as into the alley.

Little Tyber: A Fable (Part II)

For a long time all appears to go well in Little Tyber. But then something truly insidious begins creeping into the Tyberian marketplace. Let’s call it reality.

The Tyberian merchants have badly misjudged the demand for Tyberian goods. Not only is the Tyberian population in the community not large enough to support the blocks and blocks of Tyberian-only businesses, but the number of Tyberians in the entire country isn’t large enough, either. Tyberians are less than 1% of the country’s population, and most of them will never visit Little Tyber. Worse, even people from Tyber don’t come as often. When they travel, they want to visit other cultures. Being able to say “I bought it in Little Tyber” has lost its cachet.

The tourist market is also disappearing. Other People from other places are unwilling to come to Little Tyber to look at window displays of traditional Tyberian clothing that they will never buy or wear. Tourists don’t want to make the long trip from downtown just for Tyberian food that they can get back home or at a restaurant closer to their hotel. The floats at the Little Tyber parade have become tacky, too, and sometimes there’s nobody on them, so it’s not such a big draw, either.

Once tourists have seen the displays of traditional Tyberian clothing and eaten traditional Tyberian food, there’s nothing else for them to do except buy phone cards, bottled water, or lottery tickets at one of the many convenience stores in the multicultural shopping districts. Little Tyber does not have museums, art galleries, or theaters so there are no cultural offerings, even for residents.

The merchants ignored the power of Internet shopping as well. Tyberian goods can now be purchased online for less money. Nobody has to drive to Little Tyber for hard-to-find items because there are no hard-to-find items anymore. Tyberian shoppers come mainly to buy groceries at one of the many Tyberian supermarkets. In the winter, they often don’t come at all. They shop locally or on the Internet rather than spend hours driving through ice and snow to shop in Little Tyber in subzero weather.

But there’s a bigger problem. Tyberians themselves now want better schools, cleaner streets, better housing, and a place in more upscale communities, and they begin to move to the suburbs, where the merchants live. They don’t shop only at Tyberian stores anymore. The merchants are dismayed by the lack of gratitude shown by their own people. The merchants gave them a neighborhood of their own and now they’re leaving. Other People are moving in and this is not helping the Tyberian businesses.

The cumulative effect of ignoring 70% of the neighborhood—its immediate market—has caught up with the Tyberian merchants. They are losing money, and are uncomfortably aware that they’ve been losing money for years. The whole shopping district is in decline. Storefronts and commercial buildings are shabby, dirty, and unappealing. Ugly signage stands out more amid the many store vacancies. Tyberian stores begin to close.  The merchants, especially those with multiple businesses, decide to act in their own interests, as they usually do.

Refusing to change their business model and carry goods that would appeal to Other People, the merchants demand more community sacrifice to save their businesses. They need Tyberian shoppers from outside the community to support their stores, and they want nightlife and outdoor cafes and ATMs and parking lots. They want “community events” designed to attract tourists, like more Tyberian parades and 5K runs. So desperate are they that they are even willing to allow other ethnic groups in the community to hold their own parades in Little Tyber. The merchants begin to encroach on residential areas to build the things they want. They believe that no sacrifice is too great to demand from the Other People.

There’s yet another blow. The Powers That Be, who sat silently for years, fearful of being attacked as racist if they interfered with the merchants and their plan to repopulate the community to support Tyberian businesses, now act against the threat posed by Tyberian voters. Threatened political interests always have the last word, and soon the largest Tyberian precincts are redistricted out of Little Tyber. The Tyberian population drops to about 23% of the neighborhood. This is not good.

Their voting strength diluted, their businesses dying, their dreams of taking political and economic control of the community near collapse, the merchants settle on a solution. They secretly recruit a young Tyberian to move into the community to attract the Tyberian vote. His mission is to either dethrone the Powers That Be or deny a first-round victory while the merchants offer support to either the Powers That Be or the Powers That Might Be in exchange for retaining their influence and their stranglehold on the local economy.

The merchants’ candidate is new to both politics and the community and gives the game away early. He talks too much. He tells of his plans to bring more Tyberians and Tyberian businesses to the community. His statements are met with outrage by the Other People. The merchants’ candidate says he was misquoted and clams he will represent the Other People, too. He has enough campaign money to spend on marketing to make his new claims seem believable, and the merchants will give him as much money as he needs to make them sound like truth. There are rumors that he is also receiving help from the Powers That Be. No one knows for sure because dirty political deals are always coated with a thin veneer of respectability, and those in on the deal are always mistaken for respectable people.

Meanwhile, the economic slide in Little Tyber continues. Stores open and close every few months. The street is full of vacant storefronts, shuttered restaurants, and empty buildings. Almost every block is the same—convenience/grocery stores, cell phone/electronics shops—and there just aren’t enough customers, yet new convenience stores and phone stores continue to open. Strange hybrid businesses appear: Tyberian bread shops that sell cell phones and cigarettes, traditional Tyberian clothing stores that sell phone cards and pots and pans. Tyberian merchants with multiple businesses are heard discussing whether or not to leave the shopping district.

The Tyberian merchants blame everyone but themselves for what’s happening and believe that the only way to fix the mess they’ve made is to take political power and then continue to do business as usual. They think they have the votes to do it, or at least enough votes to play the spoiler and then collect their due from the Powers That Be.

Either way, the Tyberian merchants do not intend to change a thing. They will not accept that the laws of supply and demand apply to Tyberian businesses. They will not admit that the Tyberian business model has created too much supply for too little demand, and that their target market is so ethno-specific it cannot be expanded beyond the laws of nature. They’re going to try anyway. They don’t want to be just one part of a larger multicultural community. They want the whole thing for themselves.

 The Moral of Our Story

 Ethnocentrism in a multicultural world is a destructive force.

 The Tyberian merchants wanted to create a Tyberian market.

Creating a Tyberian market meant destroying a community of Other People.

The market is dying.

The community is damaged.

 Restoring the inclusive marketplace will restore the community.

Neither can thrive without the other.

 

 

 

Little Tyber: A Fable (Part 1)

In an unnamed city there exists a peaceful, prosperous, middle-class American community. It is proudly multicultural, but no group is so large that it can claim a majority. It isn’t Utopia, but for the most part everybody gets along with everybody else. The community’s main shopping district is a citywide attraction known for the wide variety of merchandise in its many shops and the cleanliness of its streets.

Merchants new to the community begin to open stores in that shopping district. Let’s call them Tyberians. The merchants make it clear that they want to sell only Tyberian goods and only to other Tyberians, and they begin to transform the shopping district into a Tyberian marketplace.

Soon there are dozens of restaurants, groceries, and electronics stores catering to the Tyberian market. Shops selling traditional Tyberian clothing appear on almost every block.  Eventually no stores other than Tyberian stores can be found where once there was a shopping district known for its retailing diversity. Bookstores, clothing boutiques, shops that sold gifts, candy, toys, shoes, and linens disappear, along with bookstores and coffee shops. The Tyberian merchants refuse to sell any of this merchandise, but they don’t mind if neighborhood residents (let’s call them Other People) buy fruits, vegetables, and other items at Tyberian grocery stores.

It is often said that the concentration of Tyberian restaurants and traditional Tyberian clothing stores rivals that of the Tyberian capital itself.

The shopping district is given an honorary name to mark the Tyberian presence. The Tyberian merchants assume control of the Chamber of Commerce and begin to market the shopping district as Little Tyber.  The entire community is soon known by this name. The Tyberians view this as a show of respect for Tyberian culture and know that political influence will soon follow.

As the merchants intended, Tyberians begin to move into the neighborhood in large numbers, drawn by the Tyberian-only shopping district, thus guaranteeing the merchants customers for Tyberian goods. The new residents are welcomed by their multicultural neighbors but, as time passes, the lack of shopping for Other People causes many longtime residents to move away. The merchants, pleased by this development, see an opportunity to completely transform the community into a Tyberian stronghold and dream of electing the first Tyberian to the City Council.

Many of the Other People become alarmed once it becomes clear that the merchants intend to change the community’s population to support their business model. It’s common, they say, for commercial change to follow population change. Further, they wonder about the economic wisdom of the Tyberian merchants. Does it make sense to ignore the immediate market of Other People in favor of attracting tourists and Tyberians from around the world?

The merchants respond to all criticism in two ways: First, they insist that they are not discriminating against the larger community just because they want something entirely their own. They aren’t stopping the larger community from buying traditional Tyberian clothing or eating at Tyberian restaurants. Second, they accuse the complainers of being racist and not liking Tyberian people. The critics are silenced.

The community’s families are stunned by the change to their shopping district. It’s not just that they can no longer buy the clothes they want because the merchants sell only traditional Tyberian clothing. It isn’t only that there are now very few places for the Other People to eat because restaurants that thrive in other neighborhoods don’t open in Little Tyber, fearing they will fail.  It isn’t even the loss of sales tax revenue that now goes to other communities where the Other People go to shop.

What bothers the Other People is that other shopping districts in the community are beginning to fail. These areas survived a national economic crisis but are now struggling against the overwhelming presence of Little Tyber on the main shopping street.  Little Tyber has a limited appeal and is heavily dependent on consumers from outside the community to support its businesses. But the emphasis on Little Tyber has driven out so many stores and restaurants that Other People no longer come to any other part of the community to shop or eat. The marketing campaign of the Tyberian merchants has killed business throughout the community.

 

The gift shops, toy stores, and shoe stores have been replaced by convenience stores and small groceries. Other People can buy lottery tickets and bottled water in almost every store on every block, but they can no longer buy shoes or winter coats. The Tyberian merchants, secure in the marketplace that they have created, don’t notice that quality shopping for Other People has disappeared. Neither does the Chamber of Commerce.

The community is mystified by its deliberate exclusion from a shopping district that once belonged to everybody. As more and more Tyberian stores open the community’s residents look to the Powers That Be for help. But no help comes. The Powers That Be remain silent, cowed by political correctness, well aware that they will be accused of racism and discrimination if they suggest that the Tyberians change their way of doing business. Some community members wonder why taking the shopping district away from everybody else in favor of Tyberians isn’t considered racist and discriminatory, but the Powers That Be do not intervene.

Soon the Tyberians begin shutting down the main shopping district for their annual Tyber Day parade, holding outdoor concerts in residential areas to celebrate. That the majority of the neighborhood is not Tyberian does not matter. The parade and the celebrations afterwards draw Tyberians from the entire region. Tourism is a major component of the merchants’ business plan and the annual Tyberian festival is necessary for business.

Because Tyberians are so ethnocentric, they don’t recognize that certain holidays are important to Other People in the community, and the shopping district gradually abandons decades of marking holidays with street decorations and merchandise sales specific to the season. On Tyber Day the street is festooned with Tyberian flags, but the Fourth of July is no longer observed, and there’s not an American flag to be seen on Memorial Day or Veterans Day.

The end-of-year holidays of Christmas, Hanukkah, and Diwali are ignored. Instead, the Tyberian merchants create something called Winter Season to replace them. Winter Season in this particular city has always meant ice and snow and cold, a time for heavy coats, boots, and thick gloves, but the Tyberian merchants don’t sell these items. The community misses recognition of its holidays, and the merchants don’t understand why Winter Season is not an acceptable replacement. They decide that the best solution is to hold a parade to celebrate the Tyberian winter holiday.

Some ethnicities among the Other People, shut out of the main shopping district, begin to open small businesses to the east and west. Both areas are isolated and desolate and only a few stores are making any money. Most of the businesses are convenience stores, beauty shops, and small groceries, each catering to a specific ethnic group. These areas are known as the multicultural shopping districts.

The Powers That Be watch but do nothing. Tyberians vote and Tyberian merchants donate money. There are no obvious political problems in Little Tyber, although the Powers That Be realize that the merchants will soon want political power of their own. The Other People grow increasingly restless but unorganized vocal opposition to the Tyberian way of doing business does not threaten either the merchants or the Powers That Be.  Sales tax revenues have hit another low, but the merchants believe that this is because the Other People have not yet sacrificed enough to make the Tyberian businesses successful. The merchants plan to change that.

The peaceful, prosperous, middle-class American community ceases to exist, destroyed by the ethnocentrism of the Tyberians, who are less than 30% of the community’s population.