As many of you are aware, I have been commenting about this
issue on various sites since my family and I read the August 3rd
Tampa Bay Times article about the Refinery meeting and felt embarrassed to live
in Seminole Heights. My main point has been that, though well-meant, this
movement reflects poorly on our community. Though not the intention, the No
Family Dollar movement looks elitist at best.
I have made this point in various ways. No Family Dollar,
though numbering over 700 according to the Facebook page, very likely includes
few of the actual residents of the area where the Family Dollar is proposed. Is
it possible that many of those neighbors could experience an improvement in
their quality of life with the addition of a walkable retail store meeting
their economic needs? If the answer is yes, I am certain that it matters to
you. Even the NFD folks living near the site that aren’t part of the Family Dollar
demographic, would benefit from the ability to pop in on occasion and buy name-brand products that they already purchase from a more distant location. See for yourself. They sell items that you use. It’s a retail store, not a strip club.
Some say that they oppose Family dollar because it is an out-of-state chain that will take profits out of the neighborhood, evict existing businesses, eliminate existing employment and replace it with part time low wage no benefit jobs, increase traffic and not fit the neighborhood aesthetic. There are out-of-state chains ticking all of the same so-called negative boxes as Family Dollar that would be welcomed to the location, whether Trader Joe’s or whatever chain you currently utilize elsewhere or hope to shop at. Furthermore, some of the local businesses currently in that area meet some or all of those criticisms. Thus, the problem with Family Dollar isn’t the above issues, it seems be the negative perception you have of FD and FD customers.
Another “Big Idea” promoted by No Family Dollar is the importance of supporting local independent businesses, a fine goal. Therefore, I am certain that you support the only established full-service independent grocery store in Seminole Heights, Mega Supermarket on Nebraska Avenue. My family doesn’t shop there but we also do not use “Local and Independent Uber Alles” as a reason to keep out a legitimate business. We do occasionally shop at the Family Dollar next to it, though.
My family watched the recent ABC Action News piece by Brendan McLaughlin. We found it to be excellent journalism. The stark contrast between the two local business owners clarified the issues at play. I quote ABC Action News:
"Record store owner Keith Ulrey says a big box national chain is just not a good fit. “An art space, retail establishment, t-shirt screening, anything, something that's more in the vibe and aesthetic of the neighborhood and what we're trying to establish from here on down to the corner," said Ulrey."
"Not everyone has joined the opposition. Long-timeresident and auto repair shop owner, Ruben Jimes thinks a dollar store would be, convenient for him and good for his business. "It's good. It's good for the neighborhood. Maybe they could see my sign over here and bring some business in," said Jimes."
According to start.cortera.com, Rubens Auto Repair was founded in 1992. Much respect to Mr. Jimes for 20 years of success with his small business. I am certain that we all wish him continued success, as we do Mr. Ulrey and all of their neighbor businesses.
Both local independent business owners featured have the same vision, one of neighbor businesses that benefit one another. Only Mr. Jimes sees Family Dollar as fitting into this shared goal. I am confident that Mr. Ulrey and everyone in support of No Family Dollar hope to see Mr. Ulrey’s vision of “what we're trying to establish from here on down to the corner” come to fruition and that they also wish continued success for Rubens Auto Repair. The problem is that if Florida Avenue is established “down to the corner”, Mr. Jimes’ shop would no longer exist. The property would become “an art space, retail establishment, t-shirt screening, anything, something that's more in the vibe and aesthetic of the neighborhood”.
The Law of Averages says that one or two of you are friends of mine and that I am acquainted with a few more. We certainly have things in common. As I compose this, I’m swinging on my front porch, dogs at my feet, looking out at my Grandfather oak-covered front garden, drinking a Southern Tier 2XIPA, and listening to first wave ska. I think that Keith Ulrey is someone that I used to know and I have kept aware of the Ulrey’s various bands. I will be greatly embarrassed if I am wrong but over 20 years ago, we got a room at a Sabal Park hotel with 2 other guys because we heard U2 were staying there. We never saw them but we had a blast watching Home Shopping Channel most of the night. The Bakers and I have crossed paths due to mutual acquaintances. The first time we met, though, was back before the Refinery when they had the Culinary Sherpas column and catered. We were sitting at the outside bar at Tampa Bay Brewing Co. I was, as usual, nursing my mug and working crosswords while they were planning a Thanksgiving catering menu. They asked me for ideas from my family’s tradition. Then we got to chatting about music and had a nice hour or so. But I digress. My point is that you are all good people wanting the best for our neighborhood and I am not a total jerk. I don't expect you to suddenly think that I am the greatest guy ever, just that I am not the Devil.
Deciding what to have for breakfast is simple. It doesn’t require much thought because there are few, if any, unintended consequences. Neighborhood revitalization, gentrification, what have you, is complex because of the numerous unintended consequences. Rubens Auto Repair closing down would be an example. Microgroove Records (or any of the other newer businesses) closing down would be another. You don’t think that could happen? I’d bet that Cindy Wheeler didn’t expect Three Birds Bookstore to close down so quickly, either. My wife and I miss that place, especially the poetry slams. I still have the Keith Haring print book that I bought the last day they were open. Tom Roe probably thought that Blue Chair Music would be around longer, too. It was a great place to hang out, peruse the racks and talk music. So much was going on, what could happen? The independent businesses and residents had a vision for Ybor City’s revitalization, one of businesses “in the vibe and aesthetic of the neighborhood”. We all know how that turned out. Three Birds and Blue Chair opened around 1992 and by 1996 they were gone, along with most everything else that fit that vibe.
I know that there was more to it than that, an example being the major role of city officials. I also know that much was learned and some policies have changed but it all started with some earnest folks with a big idea to make a really cool neighborhood. Once it’s clear that there is money to be made on that stretch of Florida Avenue, developers, carpetbaggers with no interest in the residents, will start sniffing around and buying property to get in on a perceived gravy train. One of the many ironies at play is the very idea of what you think Family Dollar represents will likely help to keep the area a neighborhood rather than become a destination, a la 7th Avenue in Ybor. It is a “retail establishment” that will aid in anchoring the local neighborhood just as Cappy's is the local pizza joint.
You could quibble with my Ybor analogy and fair enough. But why can’t Florida Avenue from Microgroove on down to the corner have The Refinery, Cleanse Apothecary, Cappy’s Pizza, Rubens Auto Repair, J D Smith Exterminators, Family Dollar and whatever other businesses that a true neighborhood requires? Can’t Some of the world’s best beer coexist alongside everyday goods? The promise of everyone working together, both old comers and newcomers, to build a vibrant and lasting neighborhood, isn’t that what we all want? I don’t presume to have all of the answers (though I do ask a lot of questions). I do know that many of us don't seem to be considering how all of our neighbors could be affected by this situation. Not because we don’t care but because we are likely not aware of these consequences. None of us wish ill on any of our neighbors.
Thank you for reading.