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Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Neighborhoods We Want (Business Edition)

It was in early September that we got the email announcement that Toscano & Sons, the Italian grocery store in Virginia Highland, was closing.  This was a shock.  That was where we bought flour for pizza making in 50 pound bags and cans of Italian tomatoes for pizza sauce.  They had great sandwiches and it was pleasant to sit on the sidewalk with a panini and watch the people go by.  But the rents were high, and ultimately (Tom heard from the owners), it just wasn't worth it -- the landlord was making more than the business owners were.

The closing of Toscano & Sons led to a long and surprisingly lively and constructive discussion on Nextdoor about the difficulties that neighborhood businesses face.  My response when my favorite places close is blame the landlords for rents that are too high, which may or may not be fair; there was discussion in the Nextdoor thread about whether or not Virginia Highland is still a shopping and dining destination for people from outside the neighborhood, with competition from other commercial areas, like Ponce City Market and Krog Street Market and Inman Quarter.  There were complaints about Park Atlanta, which is always fair game in my book, but others pointed out that most of us can easily walk or bike there so parking should not really be so much of a deterrent for us in the nearby neighborhoods. There were discussions about the mix of businesses in Virginia Highland, pointing out that there were only so many bars and boutiques the neighborhood could support, and some proposals for what kind of businesses we'd like to see in the neighborhood, with most of the suggestions not sounding very viable to me (a lot of focus on "organic" and "locally sourced" which doesn't go so well with "inexpensive").  There was nostalgia for an independent bookstore that used to be nearby that I don't remember so it probably closed more than 25 years ago.  And some of the local business owners spoke up, and made the case that just a little more business from all of us would make a big difference to them.

There are lots of reasons to support local businesses -- we'd rather do business with people that we know and that know us than with strangers; it's more fun to walk to Morningside Kitchen than to drive to Buckhead (actually, almost anything is more fun than driving to Buckhead); and it would be so depressing if Virginia Highland or Morningside Village got replaced by, say, a Walmart.  Another reason is what the American Independent Business Alliance calls "the local economic multiplier effect" -- what we spend at locally-owned, independent businesses is far more likely to circulate in our community, contributing to the local economy, than what we spend at absentee-owned businesses, locally-owned franchises, or (in the worst possible case) a distant, online retailer.  ("Buying remotely creates almost no local benefit – just a few minutes’ work for a delivery person.”)

We shop at Costco and Target and Amazon, and will continue to, but having Toscano & Sons close and the subsequent conversation about our neighborhood businesses has made me realize that if I love having these businesses nearby, I need to support them better.  And if all of us did that -- just a little more shopping and dining in the neighborhood -- we wouldn't keep having our favorite places closing.

Yesterday, after early voting, we walked to Virginia Highland for breakfast, and I was surprised to see this in the window, where Toscano & Sons used to be:

It looks like we might have another chance at supporting our neighborhood Italian market.  I'll do better this time.

1 comment:

SB said...

Agreed on all of this. I read a lot of those Nextdoor threads feeling helpless.