It may be a slum, but it’s our slum. That seems to have been the response from black community leaders in Northeast Portland to plans to build a branch of Trader Joe’s, the upscale food chain, in their neighborhood.
“Instead of heading to a tony neighborhood downtown or towards the suburbs,” writes John Gabriel at Ricochet, “the popular West Coast grocer chose a struggling area of Northeast Portland.”
The company selected two acres along Martin Luther King Blvd. that had been vacant for decades. It seemed like the perfect place to create jobs, improve customer options and beautify the neighborhood. City officials, the business community, and residents all seemed thrilled with the plan.
Trader Joe’s had even contracted with a local black-owned construction company to build the store.
Then the Portland African-American Leadership Forum got wind of the project. In a press conference, PAALF spokesperson Avel Gordly expressed opposition to the plan, declaring:
This is a people’s movement for African-Americans and other communities, for self-determination.
The NAACP injected its two cents, assailing the project as a “case study in gentrification.” Lord knows you don’t want the cancer of fresh paint and unbroken windows compromising the “atmosphere” (read: urban blight) your community worked so painstakingly to cultivate over decades of neglect and abuse.
The battle, if it can be called that, ended as abruptly as it began. Amid tinged accusations and angry demands, Trader Joe’s announced after a couple of months that it was deep-sixing the project. In a statement emailed to The Oregonian, a spokesman for the company wrote:
When it comes to choosing Trader Joe’s store locations, we are deliberate and work hard to develop store sites with great potential for success.
We run neighborhood stores and our approach is simple. If a neighborhood does not want a Trader Joe’s, we understand, and we won’t open the store in question.
The announcement led initially to fist-bumping among PAALF leaders. Then reality set in. A previously scheduled press conference was held. In it the group oddly rehearsed their demands that the now-cancelled development include affordable housing, mandated jobs based on race, and a small-business slush fund. The fact that they were speaking to empty air dawned on them only gradually.
But at least residents of the community are relieved that the PAALF triumphed over “the man,” right? Not entirely. Nghi Tran told The Oregonian:
All of my neighbors were excited to have Trader Joe’s come here and replace a lot that has always been empty.
Adam Milne, who owns a local restaurant, also feels betrayed. “There are no winners today,” he said, “only missed tax revenue, lost jobs, less foot traffic, an empty lot and a boulevard still struggling to support its local small businesses.”
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