“You again? My answer is still no.”
Zander Lawson already knew what the man in the slick, sharp, dark suit that just walked into his grocery store was going to ask. It would be the same question he had asked last week and the week before that.
Are you sure you don’t want to sell the shop? We can negotiate a real nice deal for you…
No, he did not want to sell his mini family-owned grocery store, which had become a staple of the neighborhood for over fifteen years. Why should he leave? The multicultural community was home where kids still played outside, where the delicious smells of a plethora of foods drew everyone from near and far to the various cultural street festivals, and in the summer, music drifted from the nearby park from local musicians. But since late last year, things started to change: ‘For Sale’ signs popped up outside storefronts and boarded up windows meant another vacancy. The music was heard less.
“You won’t be able to say no forever,” the man, an exec from the property management office, was saying now, as he stood to the side not wanting to block customers.
“Maybe not forever,” Zander retorted, keeping his cool, as he tallied the order of long-time customer Mrs. De La Fuente, “but as long as I can. Have a nice day.”
In a huff and without a word, the man turned on his well-polished heel, none too pleased. Later that evening, after closing up, and driving on the way home, he couldn’t help but shake his head as he passed At Your Fingertips, the once popular bargain shop. Now, it sat eerily abandoned until inevitably someone claimed it with ideas of turning it into another ‘name’ store, knowing full well that the people of Foxtrail Park couldn’t afford it. Zander knew exactly what was becoming of his beloved neighborhood, judging by the sudden appearance of, not just one, but two pricier food stores. Wealthy investment firms and property management began a trend of turning their greedy eyes on less financially viable areas, to eradicate the small businesses; flushing out the lower-income and working-class folks, and then re-vamping it with stylish condos and higher-end retail to attract a more upscale demographic – equalling more profit for the corporations.
Zander soon remembered the executive from earlier and wondered how he slept at night after bothering decent, working folk just trying to make a living. It was always the hard-working poor, and racialized communities that got the broken end of the stick, he thought sadly. Even Yolanda, who owned a very successful salon catering to all hair types, told Zander that she too had been visited (more like harassed) by these people. Zander laughed when she said she practically chased them out.
Apartments were on the short-list too; ‘For Rent’ signs, like the ‘For Sale’ signs, advertised more now. Landlords, influenced by the actions of their peers in other cities - giving tenants, who currently pay lower rent, money, to leave by a set date. They then can elevate the rent for the potential new occupants. Intimidated by the pressure to move, most people believed there was nothing they could do, so they took the money and ran.
Zander Lawson was no push-over, a trait his dear dad passed on to him. The man endured hardship and a disease called racism. If he came through all that stronger for it, then he, Zander, would get through this.
He had some ideas and the time had come to voice them.
He started with Ella that evening at dinner. “So that same man from the property management office came into the store again today.”
Ella’s fork stopped just above her plate. “Again? Is he still pushing for us to sell?”
“That, he is, and of course, I said no.”
“As you should have,” she answered after having a piece of potato.
“But I think we have to do more than that,” he continued, sprinkling some pepper over his dinner. “I think it’s time for us all to say no together.”
Ella looked at him softly. “Of course, dear. As a family, we will stand together.”
Zander proceeded carefully. “The family too, but I mean everyone in the neighborhood, as a community. Those of us left don’t want to see what happened to Willow Wood Heights to happen here. This is our home.”
Ella clasped her hands together under her chin. “I’m not sure what we can do.”
Zander then shared his plan of talking to the other business owners in their area, maybe even the Director or Manager of some of the nearby community agencies. Over the years he had acquired many friends and someone always knew someone, who knew somebody who could lead you to somebody else. This would be networking at its finest.
Ella didn’t say anything for a few minutes. Admiration for her husband shone in her eyes, but worry partially covered them also. “I don’t know. I just don’t want you to get into trouble or anything.”
“Don’t worry, I don’t think anyone will get into trouble just for voicing a concern,” Zander reassured her, intertwining his fingers through hers. “I’m just going to start talking to people and getting their opinion. If I stand by quietly, then they’ve won, right?
“I suppose,” Ella answered, still not entirely over her misgivings yet, but she knew once Zander was determined, a boulder would be easier to move. As time went on, more and more people of all races and cultures became interested in joining Zander on his mission to save their community. Even Ella got involved in making the calls and booking meeting dates.
Mrs. De La Fuente, who was in Zander’s store that day when the executive came in, suggested they invite their local Councillor to the upcoming annual neighborhood BBQ. Everyone thought this was a great idea, but there was some grumbling that maybe he wouldn’t come. It looked like they were right when two emails and a phone call had gone unanswered. Then one day, Ella received an email from the Councillor’s office on his behalf, expressing apologies for being unable to attend the BBQ, but he still welcomed a meeting!
Zander, and five group leaders wearing their best, and well-prepared for what they planned to say, met with him the following week, which ended with the promise of running their concerns by the other members of Council. He also encouraged them to make a presentation of their case to the Planning and Development Committee. Zander checked it out and they would each have just five minutes of talk time.
However, they were also about to hear some good news.
Michelle, Zander’s daughter who was away studying and who also wrote for a local educational paper, called one afternoon, all excited. “Dad, I wanted to tell you that a journalism contact of mine is interested in what’s happening in our neighborhood, after it came up in conversation when we got to talking about community issues!”
“Yeah, and, get this – she wants to run it by her editor as a possible story!”
Zander couldn’t believe it. Media coverage! Wait until the others hear this, but he wouldn’t talk too soon. He needed to know if it was going to be a sure thing.
A week later, Michelle’s journalism friend got back to her letting her know her editor’s answer.
It was a…YES! Her editor loved it, saying this topic was hot right now.
After the story aired, both in print and on the web, Zander became something of a local celebrity, which he shied from. He saw himself as just an everyday person standing up for what was right. Interestingly enough, after the publicity, a representative from the Executive Committee of the Mayor’s Office contacted him – about setting up a meeting to resolve any issues.
In the end, the two sides came to an agreement that was better than expected. Although the developers would still be allowed to go ahead with projects that had already been scheduled, no longer would anyone be forced to close their business or leave their home.