Long before I
saw her walking her dog that morning or the guy who was jogging,
or that couple move in down the street, I concluded that one way
or another, my neighborhood was going to change. I just wasn’t expecting
it so soon or for Black people to play such an active roll in it.
In the past month, “mom and
pop” businesses in Los Angeles, in particular Black businesses, have
been dropping faster than the Mayor’s approval ratings - and that’s
fast. Restaurants, cleaners, specialty stores - you name it, they’re
all taking a beating from the economy and our continued belief that
the grass is greener on the other side. You know that mentality
that “theirs” is somehow better than ours. Yeah, I said it.
One of the reasons that I made
West Adams and the Crenshaw District my home
was because of the sense of community (minus the gang violence),
I feel here. Everywhere I go, I see someone I know. I frequent certain
business regularly in my neighborhood to the point where I know
the owners by name. I love my hair salon on Pico and my nail salon
in Baldwin Hills. I love the community of walkers and joggers at
Rancho Cienega Park on Rodeo and of course my tennis playing brothers
and sisters across the way. It’s not unusual to find me at Earle’z
Grille, Sky’s Tacos, or Lucy Florence Coffee House, and more recently
Vegi-Soul on Jefferson. In fact, I make it
a point to search out “mom and pop” business in my neighborhood
that I can support these days. Why? Because I am trying to do my
part to make sure that after the recession, they’re still in business
because they are an integral part of my sense of community.
Gentrification is happening
daily in our neighborhoods as we are being priced out of the market
in rent and mortgages. Those of us, like me, that are managing to
hang in there are watching our neighborhoods transform before our
very eyes. There’s nothing we can do about that. It is what it is
and the worse the recession gets, the 10-freeway divider doesn’t
look so bad after all to young, affluent, whites, who think living
in historic Black neighborhoods is “cool” and shows how “diverse”
But it isn’t just the architecture
of the homes or the color of the skin of the people who live in
neighborhoods like mine that make them “historic.” It’s also the
local businesses, many of which have been there for decades but
are not weathering today’s economic climate so well, due to a lack
of participation in recycling Black dollars with “mom and pop” businesses.
years back, the community banded together to say no to changing
the name of Crenshaw Blvd., which was named after developer George
L. Crenshaw who built a series of upscale residential tracts in
mid-city Los Angeles in the early 1900s. The only probably is, what
many people didn’t know was that this is also the same guy who didn’t
want “Negroes” and “Asians” on said property for more than 24 hours.
But when there was a push to rename Crenshaw after L.A.’s
first Black mayor Tom Bradley, the community said “hell to the no”
because they loved riding down what is known as “The Shaw.”
In a few years, if we don’t
get it together “The Shaw” will hardly be recognizable to those
same people who love to ride down it. Those of you reading this
from L.A. who are older than I, remember what “The Shaw” looked like before
I was born. Look at it today. And the few independent businesses
that have managed to maintain their position on said “Shaw” aren’t
going to be around much longer if we keep passing them up to go
to their competitors, i.e. “the chains.”
So what am I saying?
If you feel like a taco, consider
the fact that Taco Bell isn’t going to go under if you stop eating
there, but that “mom and pop” taco stand around the corner from
your house will. And
even though we don’t need to eat at McDonald’s period, when you
have to have it, why not try and eat at a local independent fast
food restaurant that serves the exact same menu. You may to wait
a little longer, but the food is probably healthier in the long
run. Choose to put your clothes in a Black owned cleaners, take
your vision and dental care to someone local because healthcare
benefits can benefit more than just you. Remember that you don’t
have to buy your oranges from the grocery store when our brown brothers
and sisters are right there at the off ramp waiting on you - and
to tell you the truth, I’d rather give them my money where I know
it counts and makes a difference. Got a sweet tooth? Hit up the
brothers on Crenshaw or in front of the Slauson Swapmeet for a bean
What I’m talking about isn’t
specific to Los Angeles. It’s part of a national epidemic that finds traditionally
Black neighborhoods being gentrified due to the economy and Black
businesses under attack.
We cannot claim to advocate
for Black businesses and then not do our part to support them. Chances
are, for everything you need, there’s a Black owned business near
you that can provide you with it. So what if it costs you a little
bit more? I
don’t recall the Black community speaking out over the recent California
sales tax increase - and if one were going to complain about the
price of something that would have been the time to. Simply put,
everything costs an arm and a leg today.
The bottom line is that if we
don’t make a conscientious effort to support Black owned and independent
businesses in our community, they are not going to make it and will
most likely be replaced by a chain. Now if you don’t have a problem
with anything I’ve laid out here, than carry on as business as usual.
if you do, rethink where you are spending your dollars and how you
can help Black people with every dollar recycled.
We may not be able to stop them
from moving into our neighborhoods, but we can definitely stop our
businesses from moving out if we support them.
That’s all I’m saying - well
that and first time kudos to Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas who I
spotted at Xtreme Klean Laundry & Cleaners on 65th and Crenshaw,
a Black owned business. Now that’s what I am talking about.
Jasmyne Cannick, is a critic and commentator based in Los Angeles who writes about the worlds of pop
culture, race, class, and politics as it relates to the African-American
community. A regular contributor to NPR’s ‘News and Notes,’ she
was chosen as one Essence Magazine’s 25 Women Shaping the World.
to contact Ms. Cannick.