I recently listened to a the first conversation on gentrification that didn’t make me instantly upset. Usually, my experience with this topic is shaming white people for having money. I don’t believe that is always the intention, but it is more often than not the impact. This has been on my mind recently because we recorded a couple of podcasts that hit representation and privilege (first one is 10/24); and as he does, AJ said made some points that caused me to think just a little differently. So, when I saw that Keys to Shop Podcast was doing an interview with an urban planner, discussing gentrification, I decided to give it a try. One of the reasons I was willing to give it a listen is that it came from a trusted source. I met Chris at Coffee Fest LA. I picked his brain twice. The first time he earned my trust, the second time he reinforced it. So, with my mind being as fertile as it was going to be, I opened my self up to it.
My new understanding of gentrification is when developers (big business, or big corporations) come into an area that has lots of potential. They then work to bring in businesses that have a proven record of dramatically increasing property value to ensure a high return on investment. This wouldn’t have bothered me before. My view is that a rising tide lifts all boats. But that example isn’t a rising tide. It’s more like a tidal wave that washes away everything that was there before.
Coffee shops have become a figure-head for gentrification, for some fair and some unfair reasons. The reason that hit me, because it is one of our 4C’s, is that coffee shops state that they are for the community. That’s a buzz word in coffee shop culture and marketing. If the community is blue-collar and you put in a million dollar build out and charge prices no one can afford, then you didn’t really make something for the community. You created a boutique experience for a specific clientele. There is nothing wrong with that, but call it what it is. If you’re a boutique who only wants to serve rich people, fine, do that. But don’t say it’s a community shop. Be honest with your self and your customers.
Another part that struck me was asking if the business was created by someone from within the community? We recently recorded a podcast at Richter Aleworks and they talked to us about how they traveled Europe and noticed that at pubs, people would stop in drink one beer and socialize, then go home. That is what they wanted. They didn’t want a boutique they wanted something that looked like and felt like the community around them. They wanted to create a place that regulars would come and talk to their neighbors. I mean…that is the exact same thing as what was being discussed in the gentrification arena. So, I got that. I think everyone in Arizona should get this, because this is the most chain heavy place in the world. I can count the number of mom and pop shops that I visit on one hand. They just don’t exist here. The only thing that survives is chains. Wouldn’t it be great to have more businesses that you used that were owned and operated by people you knew?
Now, my challenge is this: a business has to raise prices to stay alive. How does a business continue to lift pricing without being accused of pricing the people out? I work in a pricing department for my day job and have been learning about how price raises have to outpace inflation or the business will eventually die. This was addressed simply…this isn’t about inflation. This is about people. If the business is hiring people from within the community, offering programs to support the community, has the trust of the community, then price increases for survival will not be an issue.
In closing, it was nice to hear someone working in the gentrification realm state specifically that it is not a single businesses responsibility to stop gentrification. It is a businesses responsibility to focus on people. In all honesty, I think the world is changing to a people-first model, rather than the old money-first model. If we think about it, it’s the same as other principles we want in a business. We want a business to hire from within, so promote from within your shop and hire within your community. That’s not a big stretch. (This is considering standard operations, not necessarily high level positions. For example, your community may not have any lawyers, so you will need to go outside the community to get that talent.)