Bitter

Dictionary.com defines it as one of the four basic taste sensations. It is not sour, not sweet and not salty. It is a harsh, disagreeably acrid taste like that of aspirin or wormwood. I’ve never tasted wormword. Today I’m using the word after receiving news that is hard to bear, grievous, distressful; a bitter sorrow.

Yesterday, I sat down to pen a festive post on Cinco de Mayo complete with mariachi music and a confetti laced recipe indicative of this May celebration whose roots are unknown to most. Then I received an email detailing the May 12th closure of the Urban Market and Wine Bar. Forget the festivities, I’m very sad.

This little urban market is my lunchtime getaway, a favorite stop for a Royal coffee in the morning, a Saturday destination where I grab sandwiches on our way to baseball. It is part of the non-profit, Community Food Connections and features many locally produced items from meat to soap. It has nearly 10,000 “likes” on facebook. The next closest market down Roosevelt street has 105. And this was downtown’s first local food grocery store – not counting those that may have closed down years and years ago. It’s located adjacent to our farmer’s market and was a strong attempt to establish a permanent public market in the heart of the city.

Behind the helm, the servant leader, Cindy Gentry worked relentlessly. She is an amazing woman who has contributed so much to our community, helped scores of people get access to good food and I proudly call her friend. This morning in my melancholy, I read through all of the comments on Yelp. For the most part, they boasted of this tiny jewel. Laughably someone said it didn’t have as much selection as Whole Foods. Someone else complained about the prices. They definitely are not cheap but I believe this is an example of how cheap may cost us a fortune.

I feel remarkably guilty. There was more that I could’ve done to help them, more dollars I could’ve spent and more business knowledge I could’ve imparted. Did I spread the word about them to as many people as I should’ve? Did I work to get them listed as the preferred caterers at venues that I do business with? Is there a way to rally an entrepreneur who might be able to thrive in this excellent location?

Much remains to be seen. But for today, I’m putting on my glasses and looking around at the other local businesses that are so dependent on my support. I encourage you to do the same. Pass up the big box and the chain for that locally owned and operated business that is plowing money back into your community. That business is contributing not just tax dollars but also contributing to place-making and quality of life and giving your community it’s culture.

Yes, I have a disagreeable taste in my mouth but I choose use it to see where else my community needs me. Where does yours need you?

Leave a comment

74 Comments

  1. A thoughtful post, when I moved to my small town one of the things I liked about it was that there were many independent shops – from bakers, to jewellers and on. I realised I need to support them and to a large extent manage to do so. If I go and spend my money at the supermarkets then my local shops will die, and the area with it. I hope the bitter taste is soon removed by some good news and something sweeter.

    Reply
    • I am hopeful that there is a budding entrepreneur waiting in the wings who can leverage the good work from the past.

      Reply
  2. I have nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award! Check it out here:
    http://sayitwithmusic.wordpress.com/pay-it-forward/

    Reply
  3. That is a bummer. Sounds like a great place.

    Reply
    • It is a good place. You’d be very appreciative of the beef and pork that they do carry.

      Reply
  4. Tammy, so sad. But you bring up an valuable point about the decision to buy local. Another friend recently noted a large big box store’s efforts to brand as “local”: as curator of local shops but under one roof; as the customer’s local grocer. I shouldn’t name names (Target) but maybe everyone reading will recognize the marketing campaign. Big boxes realizing the power of branding as local is huge; it is recognition that customers like the idea of local. But do customers want local at local prices or at big box prices? Do people want to think they are buying local, or do they actually want to buy local with all that entails? Those are the questions. You have asked yourself soul searching questions that we must all ask ourselves.

    And what can real local markets/shops/entrepreneurs do in the face of large competitors that provide perceived good value? Small businesses add value to our local communities that goes beyond the lowest price tag. They employ our friends, neighbors, and children, and provide a host of other benefits that spell community health. But those things come at a cost if compared to the prices Target can charge. I fear it is a penny wise-pound foolish decision for many, and I don’t know how we can change it. Except to write about it and encourage others to ask these very difficult questions of themselves.

    Reply
    • Yes, it’s very discouraging but I know first hand that people claim to be looking for ‘value’. It will take a great deal of education to shift that paradigm.

      Reply
      • I’m sorry about the loss of your market. I’m sure it is extremely hard for small businesses to compete with the “big box” stores and prices they can offer. You mention people looking for value. What that means varies from person to person. The cheapest product is not necessarily the best value, but then again, everyone has to work within their own budgets. It’s tough. I hope along with you that someone else can come fill in that gap.

        As an aside, since I live in Minneapolis, where Target is headquartered, would you consider Target a “local business” for me? I don’t feel the same satisfaction spending my money at Target as I do at my “mom and pop” hardware store or the local bakery down the road. But as far as the big stores go, I know Target provides many many jobs here in our community. Just something to ponder. What about when the big store is in your town?

        Reply
        • When the big box is in your town, it’s a little different since the HQ and CEO will be there but realistically (just like our own Petsmart) when it is a publicly traded company and most are now full of institutional investors, then you don’t get the benefit of it being local. These two (Target and Petsmart) are at least good citizens in contributing a lot to the communities.

          Reply
          • I beg to differ on Target being a good citizen – they funded an anti-labor, homophobic candidate for governor of Minnesota. As a gay woman and one who believes strongly in labor rights, I have boycotted them for several years due to that.

            Reply
            • Thanks Diane. It always merits a closer look. Their philanthropic efforts here have brought the children’s symphony and efforts at the garden but I have no idea what their political or lobbying efforts might look like.

              Reply
  5. This is very sad news, and quite a shock – every time we’ve been in the place it’s been very busy. I really enjoy the atmosphere; everyone, staff and customers included, has been friendly and immediately familiar. Sure the prices were a few cents higher, but supporting your neighbors, your friends, your community, your family, is money well spent. I would much rather support our local producers and our local food system, building our local resilience, than help line the pockets of some distant, high carbon footprint corporation. Shame that more people don’t realize that the cheap prices seen in those national grocers are a result of all the additional money from our taxes that goes to odd things like the farm bill and corporate tax breaks. The price we see on the sticker is only part of what we actually pay. We could all be using our dollars more wisely by shopping local businesses and stopping the farm bill and corporate tax breaks.

    Reply
    • Yes, my new tag is that cheap is costing us a fortune. I’m hopeful that some good will come from this. The outdoor market is thriving.

      Reply
  6. How sad. I share some of your concerns about the commoditization of food and other things that really are about more than cash value.

    BTW your post about not wasting food inspired my latest recipe and I wanted to let you know that I just awarded you the versatile blogger award. I know some of my awardees have gotten this before, but I do have my favorites and really wanted to honor you (especially since you prompted my latest post!). For the announcement, see: http://artofnaturalliving.com/2012/05/05/kitchen-sink-cookies/

    Reply
  7. Lisa H

     /  May 5, 2012

    Oh, this is very sad! I was just there a couple weeks ago. Yes, the prices were higher than a regular grocery store, but it was local, high quality products and it was in downtown (notice even big-name grocery stores are not in downtown).
    I actually save money buying at the smaller stores. No end-caps to entice me to buy something I don’t really need, I only buy the amount I need, the owners know me by name and thank me for the business. Don’t get me wrong, I do shop at Target and Costco, but I try to make those my last stops.
    I have heard there will be a new local market at 16th and Glendale. Hopefully the location will help it be successful.

    Reply
    • I’ll look forward to seeing what goes in there. I did notice a nice community garden near there the other day.

      Reply
  8. Good attitude, Tammy. I see people from our little island load up at Big Box stores off-island and then complain because they can’t run to the store for some specialty item here at home. I’m amazed when little operations manage to stay in business. Some exist because people want to live and work here – not because the business is a money-maker. As they say, it’s a way to exist, but with other investments.

    Reply
    • I just think that so often these small businesses give our communities the feel that we’ve come to appreciate.

      Reply
  9. don’t know if the ‘cash mob’ concept has caught on yet, or even if it’s really a good idea, but there are groups of folks in my little town who make it a point to really support a local shop for a day, a week, or a month, to try to bolster their visibility and finances. i think it’s a good start, but to sustain the businesses, we all need to change our habits. plan ahead a bit more to make sure we can catch these folks during their hours, rather than hit the 24-hour megamart because we couldn’t get to the little guy before 8pm…

    very sad… i’ll try to do a better job with my locals…

    Reply
  10. Kelley

     /  May 5, 2012

    No! This is so sad. It is also one of my favorite lunch spots. I was just starting to introduce it to some more co-workers. I’m taking Mike W. there for lunch on Monday. Such a shame to see another gem close. :(

    Reply
  11. Put your money where your heart is,

    Reply
  12. Thank you Tammy, for sharing your disheartening situation in a way to help us wake up to what we have and want to keep. I remember being worried when our Walmart became a Super Walmart . . .would the other little groceries fold? So far they haven’t and I love to shop them! I can get in and out faster and sometimes for me, that is worth the higher price I might be paying. :)

    Reply
  13. That’s really sad news for you & for so many people in your area! :(
    I also support local & smaller buisnesses over here in Mechelen, where I live, 30 km north of Brussels. I hope something else comes your way! :) What a great , great post!

    Reply
    • Thanks Sophie. It seems that most people in the blogging world recognize the benefits of local and the artisan quality of things.

      Reply
  14. How discouraging:( It seems that more and more people are learning about the importance of “choosing local” and yet, for some businesses, it is too little, too late. As one of the other commenters mentioned, I’ve recently heard/seen the “local” word being used by big box stores….NOT cool. The way I explain it to people is this: if the CEO and other top managers do not live in your area and pay local taxes, the business is not local. Period. Doesn’t matter how many people the big box employs; if headquarters are out of state/out of country, then dollars are sucked out of the local economy.

    Reply
  15. Is it too late for this little market? I would imagine an outpouring from the community that seems to love it so much could do something. Do you know why it is closing? Does Cindy need volunteers to work hours in the market? Does she need subsidized funding or donations from the public to make payroll? Can someone else come in and take over the business and run it the way she has?

    I’m a big fan of “it ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings’. Perhaps a facebook campaign to save it is in order?

    Reply
    • I still have some investigation to do to see what the outcome is but I do believe from the non-profit’s point of view that the market closure is best. Perhaps there is some grace in that if a skilled entrepreneur steps in.

      Reply
  16. Do you know WHY it’s closing, Tammy? Maybe it isn’t lack of community support at all?

    One of our favorite LOCAL haunts closed for HEALTH reasons (the owners needed to move to Philadelphia to get special care for their to-be-born baby). Rather than selling the business, they closed.

    Reply
    • Since it’s run by a non-profit, I think we do know that it hasn’t received the support we’d hoped. That said, there may be other outcomes that could be promising.

      Reply
  17. I really enjoyed this post because it points up the importance of supporting local business with dignity and compassion. Thumbs up!

    Reply
  18. So sorry to hear of this, Tammy. It is very sad when beloved local establishments close. We have a new coffee shop in town that we often visit simply to support the young couple. Their food and coffee are wonderful–and it’s becoming a joyful place to visit in town. They so often have good words to share with everyone who stops. It would be heart-breaking to see them close. So many small coffee shops close in our area because of a limited market. These folks are health-minded and loving. Your post reminds me to continue to support people like them.

    Reply
    • Yes, it takes a village. I am spending time right now learning more about the “pull factor” in communities so that I’m cognizant of the population that it takes to make a business successful.

      Reply
  19. Danielle

     /  May 6, 2012

    That is a bitter pill to swallow. I share your sentiments in every way. Thanks for the information. I will continue to support local businesses as best I can.

    Reply
  20. So sad to hear of the closing. By the way, I have pulled wormwood out of the ground and tasted my hands. It is bad. Good metaphor. Good post too, we need to keep reminding ourselves of the importance of local markets of all kinds.

    Reply
  21. This is very sad, indeed. I can certainly understand your feeling guilty; I only hope that others (especially in that neighborhood) who perhaps never supported the market, might be feeling guilty too. I, like you, try to spend as many of my dollars locally as possible. But other people need to join us, or this is going to keep happening! It gives me hope to be connecting with so many people like you who really are trying to make a difference by living consciously.
    Eleanor

    Reply
    • I agree Eleanor. The joy of blogging for me comes from meeting so many like-minded individuals.

      Reply
  22. Yes, wormwood tastes terrible, and I’m sorry to hear about the loss of the business. Interestingly, I had a conversation about books and the publishing industry recently that brought home a realization of how confused our communities are. In one example, a local bookstore won’t do any business with some POD printers and so some local authors can’t sell via the bookstore. In another community, there isn’t any bookstores within the county, so the online retailers are a major resource for those who want to buy books. Should the community feel guilty for not buying from the local store because they don’t carry those local authors? Should authors feel guilty for directing people to online retailers if they chose to not maintain a significant inventory? Should we feel guilty for buying online when the only alternative is wal-mart (which doesn’t have any real book inventory anyway) or driving long distances?

    In your case an similar question might be: do you do more good by buying products at farmer’s markets or via CSA or supporting a grocery? You can/should only eat so much, and there is often a great deal of competition for our “calories” even among local producers and distributors. Supporting the local economy is complex, and most of us do only have a limited amount of discretionary income as well as a budget for essentials. Sorry, this is rather long for comment.

    Reply
    • Interesting comment about the bookstores. I do think they need to represent their local authors and their local audience. I don’t believe that local is the only alternative – clearly it’s not even possible but I do try to consider local resources first. Our little store was a great place to grab a prepared salad with farm to table ingredients and really it grew out of our farmer’s market which is adjacent and thriving.

      Reply
  23. This is sad news indeed. I feel sorry for the people of your little urban market. You did very well in writing about it, Tammy. Reminding us to be more aware of our local markets and grocery stores. In the village I live in there is a dairy, a baker’s shop and a grocery. Most of what you need can be found there. Unless I need something special, I do most of my shopping in the village. Veges grow in farms nearby, milk is brought daily to the dairy by farmers and bread is still warm when you buy it in the morning. And…you meet people, friends, little moments of sharing.

    Reply
  24. This is indeed bitter news! I am easily there 3x a week. With all my food sensitivities this is the one place I can walk to from work and grab a good organic meal or smoothie. Royal is frequently the destination of my walks. Depressing… :(

    Reply
  25. I’m so sad to hear about the closing of Urban Market. Even though I have never been there, I strongly believe the world needs more places like that, not less! And you are right that we should do our best to support our local businesses as best we can, in every way we can.

    Reply
  26. That IS sad and a good reminder of how important our choices are. Thanks for the reminder, Tammy. What a loss!

    Reply
    • I had a good conversation with a board member this week and it looks like they are actively trying to find someone with some experience to go in.

      Reply
  27. I shop local because I hate having to drive unless it’s for a very good reason. It’s nice knowing the business owners in my suburb by name, and they’re always willing to order stock in if there’s a line they don’t carry

    Reply
  28. I love your approach, Tammy. Disagreeable tastes are known as dissonance, if I am not mistaken: a deep irritating feeling of mismatch between reality and how we feel things should be. Dissonance- which smarts- is the most powerful of tools for change for the good. You have demonstrated perfectly how to use it in the best way. An inspirational post, even though it must have been difficult to write.

    Reply
    • I felt so sad when I was writing it but better now. I do think there can be a good outcome.

      Reply
  29. A sobering reality. I like the questions you are challenging us with – do NOT take for granted the community enterprises that we frequent. And vote with your wallet to preserve these treasures.

    Reply
  30. I feel a little guilty too. We work right down the street and I never went there for lunch. I had been meaning to since it opened, but never went. I will make it a point to go to the market there at least once a month now. I’ve only been there once since it opened. You can get your coffee at http://www.azfairtrade.com/ now…

    Reply
    • Thanks for the link to AZFairtrade. I did get the good news that the Royal Coffee shop will remain intact!

      Reply
  31. It is very sad to see small business go out, especially when they practice sustainable approaches. Hopefully the owner will learn from her experiences to help others who are try to do the same as she is doing.

    Reply
    • I think there is a learning opportunity inside this one for many of us. Yesterday I got to meet with the Board president and there is a future being painted.

      Reply
  32. Thank you for this post, Tammy! I tend to buy my tomatoes (etc) at the supermarket when I need to get other things there anyway, but I want to buy them at the local fruit and veg store again from now on. :)

    Reply
  33. Oh my goodness! I heard so much about this little store front from my girl Amy @ Mano y metate (do you know her? She volunteers with the Tucson CSA?)

    I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about money and supporting local businesses and I have to stay I am haunted by what you said about “cheap may cost us a fortune”. That has been on a my mind for quite sometime.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: