The following opinion piece ran in the Post and Courier on February 18, 2019. Photo above by Andrew J. Whitaker/Staff.
The loss of the long-standing East Bay True Value Hardware, a community-focused store, is contrary to the ongoing conversation our city has around transportation, congestion and livability.
The ability to live in an area where you have access to basic needs, goods and services is highly desirable, but our Historic District is being designed for visitors rather than residents. When we lose these businesses, we continue to put more people on our already congested roads.
Additional affordable housing on the peninsula will not only help with our housing shortage, but when centered in our downtown area it would mean that residents of those apartments are able to walk to work, pick up dry cleaning, purchase groceries, get their hair cut and, until now, purchase air filters from their local hardware store. But this vision is contrary to what is happening. We have an influx of high-end apartments that are not addressing the affordability issues that require you to “drive until you qualify,” nor are they addressing the congestion that is caused when you live downtown but must drive for the basic services that we all need.
Our small businesses provide a connection with each other and our neighborhood and create an unparalleled sense of place. The “mallification” of our Historic District due to exorbitant rental rates will only drive these unique, sometimes quirky and lovable businesses to shut their doors or move to an area where you’re required to jump in your car to patronize.
Unfortunately, there is little political will or planned vision to make Charleston a place built for its citizens. We are so overwhelmed by development that it’s purely a game of catch-up. We are seeing gentrification of not only people but businesses as well. We have spent significant resources to preserve the exterior of businesses but nothing to support what lives within.
There are solutions that could be put in place to address these issues and some inspiring examples from around the country. Developers could be required to reserve a “set aside” ensuring that new development provides affordable smaller spaces conducive for local businesses.
We see examples of this in Boulder, Colo., and Portland, Ore., to preserve the vitality of small businesses and to build an equitable economy. Seattle and San Francisco are exploring ways to provide support for legacy businesses like Mr. Miller’s Family Barber Shop and East Bay True Value, allowing them to preserve the city’s cultural history by developing a “Legacy Business Registry.” Such a program allows businesses 30 years or older to apply to be listed in the registry and to be eligible for grants that could help with rent increases or renovations.
Finally, capping the number of business types in certain areas could allow for a healthier mix of retail, office, hotel and restaurants, creating a win-win for everyone. Jersey City, N.J., implemented a formula business ordinance that limits chain businesses to a maximum of 30 percent of ground-floor commercial space.
Nothing is impossible, but it takes creative thinking and a desire to create and nurture a community’s character for those who live there.
As citizens, we have a say in what happens in our city. Speak to your elected officials and remember that they represent you. But most importantly, remember that you vote every day with your dollars for the kind of community you want to live in.
Support your small local businesses — or risk losing them and the quality of life that they provide.