Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A Plain Ole Grocery Store Not Good Enough For The Hill


The Hill has been screaming for a grocery store for years now. Years and years. Its been top on the “Community Development” list they are trying to negotiate with the city and the Penguins. This process has been a wild ride of highs and lows. One riddled with ridiculous and bizarre behavior by all parties. The Pittsburgh Comet, by the way, has done an excellent job of staying on top of this situation.

Now enter Save-A-Lot. This major grocery store chain has recently expressed interest in putting a store on the Hill. Understand they weren’t dragged to the area and forced at gunpoint to make this announcement. Surprisingly, their interest comes from an old-fashioned place: Save-A-Lot seems to think there may be a viable market for them in the Hill. Not only that …… Save-A-Lot has offered to staff the store by hiring 25 – 30 Hill District residents for full and part-time jobs.

Wow. How fortuitous! How wonderful! Time for rejoicing and merriment in the streets! A first step in making the Hill a “livable neighborhood.”

No?

Oh … that’s right. A plain old grocery store is not good enough for the downtrodden but deserving who live on the Hill. Good food at reasonable prices right in the neighborhood is not acceptable to these folks who’ve had nothing and who’ve suffered without for so long. It’s just not good enough. The Hill insists when we “give them a grocery store” it must be one with a pharmacy included. And a bakery.

Additionally, the Hill doesn’t just want a store they can patronize. They want one they can partly own. Yep, that’s right. When they said they wanted someone to “give them a grocery store” ….. I guess they were speaking literally and we just didn’t realize it. They want to eat the bread AND the butter, the cake AND the icing, and they want a piece of the pie as well!

Well, why stop here? Why not demand a grocery store with a coffee bar and laundry inside? Maybe also a bank? How about complimentary child-care while the adults shop? How about free delivery services? Double-coupons every day of the week? Triple-coupons?

It’s stuff like this that makes people turn their backs on the plight of the Hill. It’s stuff like this which makes the Pist-Gazette want to say “let them just eat cake.” And if they have to ride the bus for an hour-and-a-half to get the cake ….. so be it. They brought it on themselves.

18 comments:

EdHeath said...

As far as partly own, apparently at some point Don Barden was supposed to hand $350 million dollars over to the Hill for redevelopment. The money disappeared when the Penguins and the city agreed Barden shouldn't be able to own property near the new arena (because the Penguins want it ... perhaps for parking). That was sometime after July. You can see where the Hill district residents are looking to the government for some help.

TrolleyRider said...

They are looking to the government for help in getting a grocery store. That help is no longer needed if a private company opens one voluntarily. Who would stand to lose if this happened? Certainly not the common Hill citizen who wants to buy groceries for a low price at a convenient location...hmmmmm...who could stand to lose from this deal? How about those leading the "One Hill Coalition" who want to portray themselves as saviors for forcing city government to bring in a grocery store? If that happens without their help, they can't take any credit for the new grocery store.

As for partial ownership...who would be the partial owners? Does the Hill district actually have an incorporated borough that could take in income from something like this? Or would everyone who lives in the Hill own a % of the store? Does the Hill have clearly defined borders so we'd know who was an owner and who wasn't? If I move to the Hill after the store opens, does my residency come with a % stake in the store? If someone who lives there now moves out do they forfeit their ownership stake or does it go with them?

Char said...

And if Save-A-Lot ran in the red, would everyone in the Hill be then asked to write a check to cover their portion of the loss?

This whole thing is so ridiculous and illogical I’m almost ashamed to blog about it.

Who would stand do lose what? Its all about the money. They big cash payment that Hill “leaders” want deposited into a bank account that THEY control. Even if the city were to cut a check to each person living on the Hill ….kinda reparations payments of sorts …. I doubt One Hill would be happy. Because the big fat payment is not in their pockets.

Does anyone know ….. Is Sala Udin part of One Hill? Bram, do you know? I know he’s not out in front. But is he somewhere in the background?

I ask because Sala was total BS when the state decided to pull the plug on the very unpopular Casino Middleman scam. Sala and other politically-connected folks (like Roddey) were recipients of these hugely lucrative licenses at the onset. When the state rescinded the requirement that casinos must purchase all their supplies, down to their toilet paper, through Middlemen who would provide no other service than to mark up supplies and pocket the profits ….All the lucrative Middleman licenses became worthless overnight.

I hear since that day Sala has been running around pissed, looking for another big pot of government-subsidized profits to replace the pot he just lost.

TrolleyRider said...

"Even if the city were to cut a check to each person living on the Hill ….kinda reparations payments of sorts …. I doubt One Hill would be happy."

Exactly.

If the One Hill leaders do reject this store, which I'm not sure how they really could reject a store opening in their area of town if the owners bought land to put a grocery store on...

That would show that they are in this for much different reasons than they state. Results would be about #5 on their list of priorities behind things like power, control, money in their own pockets, etc...

Bram Reichbaum said...

Here are my impressions of what is going on.

The Hill is feeling very defensive about being told (by the city) what exactly will be approved for development, who will get to operate it, and under what circumstances it will be funded. Usually, even when something is considered "okay", it is okay only in one way and it is the way the Mayor wants. (YMCA as the last word in community centers is one example of this).

Against this backdrop, Save-A-Lot expresses interest, and that aggravates some ambivalences.

What ambivalences? From conversations with black folks who've lived elsewhere in the country, Save-A-Lot seems like a pretty depressing place to discover oneself shopping. Bargain prices seems to be such a high priority, "no frills" gets taken to the extreme. As a result, the whole prospect of interacting with a Save-A-Lot is a little dispiriting, and hard to get excited about.

As my recent post indicates, I actually disagree with that end of the assessment, and think Hill residents should make an effort to look on the positive side of a Save-A-Lot. But I can certainly understand the hesitancy to invite what to some of them seems to be a charicature of a depressing black grocery store.

As to controlling the store -- I spoke to this as well -- while I am in favor of community ownership of assets as part of a needed CBA, I don't see quite where that must impact the potential Save-A-Lot.

Bram Reichbaum said...

And for the record, to my knowledge, the Udin sympathizers are

A) NOT, NOT, NOT operating some kind of organized shadow-councilship that is plotting a coup against Payne, the fulcrum of which is control over a CBA development fund, and

B) significantly more welcome presently in the Hill Faith & Justice Alliance than in One Hill.

TrolleyRider said...

"Save-A-Lot seems like a pretty depressing place to discover oneself shopping. Bargain prices seems to be such a high priority, "no frills" gets taken to the extreme. As a result, the whole prospect of interacting with a Save-A-Lot is a little dispiriting, and hard to get excited about."

How does it compare to riding a bus to buy groceries? Because that's the situation they've been complaining about.

I'd bet that if Save a Lot comes in and in three years the store is shown to be profitable and SAFE, another larger grocery chain may just want to buy them out. Or even better, move in and compete right next to them.

People need to realize you don't go from a neighborhood that you have to beg government to bribe a grocery store to move into to a neighborhood that a world class grocery store wants to move into overnight.

Bram Reichbaum said...

"I'd bet that if Save a Lot comes in and in three years the store is shown to be profitable and SAFE, another larger grocery chain may just want to buy them out. Or even better, move in and compete right next to them."

Couldn't agree more.

Judge Rufus Peckham said...

GREAT LINE: "Yep, that’s right. When they said they wanted someone to “give them a grocery store” ….. I guess they were speaking literally and we just didn’t realize it."

For once a private investor is willing to take a chance, not because it is being bribed to be here (e.g., the Lazarus store downtown). Great idea: let's chase it away with an attitude of entitlement.

Where the hell is David Lawrence when we need him the most?

Felix Dzerzhinsky said...

Char: I am trying to understand here, so perhaps you can clarify. Was this post of yours a spoof, or are you just a flaming racist?

Given your track record, I'm assuming it's the latter. Please advise. Thanks.

Char said...

Felix,

I’m not a racist … I am a capitalist. I believe in the sanctity of private property and that given an adequate field of competition, free market forces usually yield the best results in the long run.

Most all realize there is a good reason to separate church and state. I feel there is a similarly good reason to separate private enterprise and state. It’s just not a good idea to have the government decide which businesses succeed and which fail. It’s a worse idea for the government to compete for market share with private business. I’m against all such meddling, regardless of race. Race has nothing to do with it.

I was and still am totally disgusted at the millions that went to white PNC, the white Penguins, the white Rooneys. Pissed when the government takes land from one so as to give it to another, regardless of color. The more the government meddles, the more artificial and out-of-balance the situation becomes. Prompting the government to have to meddle some more.

So no, I didn’t want to give Mario $260-something million because we gave the Rooneys free money. And no, I don’t want to subsidize some poor shlub grocery store so they can turn around and pay the Hill profits they don’t really have just because we gave Mario lots of money previously. And I certainly don’t want the false profits and subsidized frills of a government grocery store to drive away real, self-sustaining businesses like Save-A-Lot because the Hill needs their piece because Mario got his piece because the Rooneys got theirs.

Understand, if the Hill wants to go after some of the loot we foolishly tossed to the Penquins….God bless them and best of luck. I’d rather they have it than Burkle. But just take it directly from the Pens and put it directly to whatever is needed. Do not ensnare any other private enterprise in this perverse version of Trickle Down. Do not further skew business reality. And most of all, do not insult Save-A-Lot because they’re not good enough. They’re better than that. They’re real.

Felix Dzerzhinsky said...

Char: Thanks for clarifying that your post was serious.

It's worth making clear for the record that this makes you a racist, though like all racists these days you deny it. Your suggestion that it would be a joke for the Hill to ask for a bank branch inside the grocery store gives away the game. That would be a reasonable demand to anyone but a racist.

Did you ever think about how many bank branches there are in places like the Hill District to begin with? How much do you want to bet that parasitic check-cashing establishments outnumber them? Many folks on the Hill do not even have bank accounts because of the racism of the banks. They cannot get loans because of the racism of the banks, which in turn makes them prey for the predatory lenders, which in turn explains why people of color have been disproportionate victims of the mortgage crisis brought on by the leeches and parasites who run our banks.

Angelo Mozilo, the former CEO of Countrywide, recently walked away with his $400 million in payments from stock options just before the collapse in the predatory (so-called "subprime") market. In a just world, no one at all would have $400 million, but even in a halfway just world, this criminal would be swinging from a lamppost -- or at least swiftly executed with a single shot to the back of the head after a summary trial -- instead of in possession of that much money.

That is the context of rampant exploitation and racism in this country, and all you can do is rant about how wrong the residents of the Hill are to ask that they be allowed to shop in their own neighborhood. Of course you're a racist, and people like you make me and all decent people sick. It's just that some of us actually say so openly, while others are more "diplomatic." I don't care to be diplomatic with you, so read it and weep.

Bram Reichbaum said...

Wow F-Dzerzh, I think it's really harsh to call somebody a racist, especially based on a thoughtful political opinion, or more accurately an economic opinion -- although that opinion may be ill-informed. That is how I would put it.

What informs opinions? I am certainly on-board with saying that her opinions are influenced by racism that is out there -- but that is an entirely different thing. I happen to believe we are all, and it is insidious.

There are also "racists" but it's impossible to glean that from anything Char has ever written.

Not she needs my defense. Neither of you care to be diplomatic, and anger drives you both to nausea, so I'm content to step back and watch the show.

Bram Reichbaum said...

"Most all realize there is a good reason to separate church and state. I feel there is a similarly good reason to separate private enterprise and state. It’s just not a good idea to have the government decide which businesses succeed and which fail. It’s a worse idea for the government to compete for market share with private business."

Okay, Char, given that the URA exists -- it existed last year, it will surely exist next year -- and given that this is essentially all it does, in multimillion dollar TIFFs and a great variety of specific projects -- why are you begrudging the Hill $10 million to aid developments with under a similar board -- reps from all neighborhood groups, and from the city and county? Isn't this BETTER and more USEFUL than what they usually do? Why does THIS piss you off so damn much?

Char said...

Because I'm not a fan of Authorities. Why? Because they take public monies and put them in a place where the public cannot monitor them easily or at all. Most all possible fat, bloat, redundancy or worse has been removed from our city/county budgets for instance. It has been purposefully redirected to black holes like the Water Authority, Port Authority, SEA, URA, where no one the public directly elects is directly accountable for anything that goes on there. Kind of the local equivalent of a Shadow Government, only its the Shadow that has all the juice.

Yea, I know there are benefits to Authorities. Like the ability to more easily borrow more money. But put back into the context of borrowing done and monies spent so far removed from the public eye and accountability (think Port Authority management bonuses) .... I think this plus is again more likely a minus.

Additionally since I've also never been a fan of "Well, even if its not right, they got to do it so why can't I?".....I'm therefore not in favor of placing taxpayer money under the direct control of (Hill District) private citizens who have not been elected by the taxpayers ..... instead of placing those monies in the direct charge of publicly elected officials, who are supposed to operate in the light of day, and who supposedly can be un-elected and who should supposedly be held to "the highest standards" of guarding the public trust.

I'm not as evil or myopic as I may come off at times. The Hill is entirely correct when they say they are routinely ignored or worse. As a friggin matter of course. Both in the past and in the present. The African-American community in this town always seems to react so politely each and every time they get slapped down. So I'm actually heartened to see some outrage for a change.

But in this particular instance, they can use their collective outrage and power to force the government to do what it SHOULD HAVE BEEN DOING ALL ALONG. Namely using taxpayer money for the real PRIORITY needs of the city. Literally make those SOBs take the money out of their own coffers and apply it DIRECTLY to an obvious public wound.

If those elected officials continue to breach the public trust by plowing money into the pockets of their family/friends/powerbase instead of where it should go ..... The Hill AND the rest of the city can can and should exercise their right to vote the SOBs out of office.

But they don't and we don't. Instead they are opting for their own little piece of Shadow Government. Adding yet one more cog to the gigundo apparatus of the Monolithic Machine.

Maybe the Hill would be one of the "kinder, gentler" cogs in the Machine. But it would still add growth and mass to an abomination which needs to be dismantled instead.

That's why I'm not happy.

Bram Reichbaum said...

What if the elected City Council somehow legally in the light of day seized control over a portion of those Authority assets, and then directed in that same light of day that a portion of those resources go towards Hill District initiatives according to a competitive process?

I just don't see your point that as soon as the gov't gives money to a private entity, the world somehow breaks.

And again, since this is money that is ALREADY going EITHER to the Penguins OR Luke's developer friends OR the latest steakhouse, why is it so bad to give some to needy Hill District residents. What would you do with it? Pay down the pensions? That's not going to happen. Maybe I'm stuck on what you want to see happen.

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Anonymous said...

I live in the lower Hill. Having a grocery store nearby would be a wonderful development.

I don't know who Hill One is, who elected them or who they purport to represent but it sure isn't me. I don't require any financial stake in a new grocery store. I just would like one to open up.

I know a shakedown when I hear one.