Sept. 9 2015 01:12 PM

Can Big Box behemoth respect local culture?

Photo by Jay Reed / Flickr

The preservation of community values is, by definition, adversarial to change.

In Rancho Santa Fe, for example, the general community places a significant value on the “rural” nature of their neighborhood. This is why, despite the rapid modernization of America, you can still find horse trails and farms in the upscale Covenant of Rancho Santa Fe. So any attempt to modernize the community in a way that does not preserve its rural nature is always met with fierce opposition.

In South Park, the general community places a significant value on art and local heritage. This is why, despite having a Starbucks on every corner and houses that all look the same in America, there are few chain stores in one of the city's coolest and most culturally conscious communities. [Note: Column was amended to reflect South Park does have some chain stores.]

This type of conservatism is rational.

We tend to locate ourselves in places where we feel comfortable. And change is, to human nature, uncomfortable. It's no wonder that the residents of South Park are resistant to welcoming Target into their community.

Community pride is so embedded into South Park that the residents there will still remind you that it is called “Golden Hill,” before the business owners invite you in for a glass of wine.

At the Big Kitchen, you'll be met with pictures of Whoopi and a hug from Judy.

At the Station, you can feed your dog some French fries from a park bench.

And at the Whistle Stop, you can listen to goth, to soul and sing karaoke to '90s music, all in one week.

But today, TargetExpress, a small-format version of its bigger brother, is moving into South Park.

This marks a significant change in the neighborhood's character. As a natural consequence, generations of people from Golden Hill, who define themselves by the unique-ness and originality of their community, are unhappy that they have to share their community with this big red bullseye. South Park residents learned about the construction of the new TargetExpress, which will open in the old Gala Foods building at Fern and Grape Street, in September 2014. Since that time, the community's largest parking lot has been the subject of protests, opposition strikes and outrage.

Several members of the community argue that the installation of a big chain like Target will not only upset the local charm of the community, but threaten the small businesses who sell clothes and crafts made, literally, down the street from the stores that sell them.

South Park is a small, tight-knit community of friendly residents and independent businesses that attracts visitors from across the county. And groups like Care About South Park say the new Target not only threatens commerce, but the community itself.

That is why many residents feel like San Diego City Councilmember Todd Gloria has failed to protect their community from the onslaught of Corporate America. Gloria, however, says that he has been in active discussions with members of the community, local business owners, city staff and Target representatives.

It is important, for context, to recognize that publicly traded companies like Target do not usually make these accommodations. This is because, in large part, its primary objective is to make money for its investors. So when one of America's supermarket goliaths forfeits potential profits for some peace with the residents, it is more than a small success for the war against Corporate America.

That Target will not expand its square footage, has agreed to allow the coffee shop to operate in its parking lot and has committed to not put a Starbucks inside, is perhaps evidence of the strength of the community's commitment to its traditional character. Target representatives even agreed to preserve the integrity of the current architecture, including its mid-century aesthetics and Gala Foods' lettering-style. Another important consideration is that many local residents, even if they oppose the new Target, would welcome other, smaller supermarket chains. Some community spokespeople have suggested that a “less corporate” company like Sprouts, Whole Foods or Trader Joe's, would be a better fit for the community than the big-box behemoth.

The problem is that none of these “less corporate” companies expressed an interest in opening their doors in South Park.

This does not mean that members of the community, however, are unreasonably concerned about the potential long-term impact of Target.

Realistically, once Target is done securing the permits required to open its doors, the residents will have little leverage over the manner in which Target pursues its profits.

So a sale on kid's toys at Target will put a strain on the sales of the So Childish store owned by a local San Diegan just one block away. The Make Good store a few blocks north, which sells crafts made by local artists, will have to compete with the prices of items manufactured overseas. And more than a few folks will choose the convenience of one-stop shopping over stopping in for milk at the Fern Street Market.

So whether or not Target disguises itself as a native, it will inevitably strip the community of part of its culture.

It is the conservative position to resist this change.

And it is a rational perspective.


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