Thursday, April 27, 2006

ESO's immigration program

This month, Elgin Symphony Orchestra will kicks off “In Search of the American Dream,” a monthlong celebration of concerts and humanities programs exploring immigration and the American experience. (source: Daily Herald 4/27/06)
It's good for the ESO to remind us that we are a nation of immigrants. I still can't get over Mike Bailey's late-January editorial in which he seems to blame immigrants and the poor for companies like Spiess leaving the downtown:

The influx of lower-income residents and immigrants brought the need for expansive social services, charities and agencies to serve them, which in turn attracted more of the same. Low-income housing generated the need for even more such housing.

Quality department stores left, to be replaced by seedy strip malls, bargain stores and resale shops. As the unskilled labor pool here grew, so did the concentration of businesses requiring such help. (source: Elgin Courier Jan. '06)

The closing of stores downtown has nothing to do with immigrants or poor people. Stores moved out of downtowns because downtowns were not suited for the automobile--there wasn't ample parking, easy access, visibility, etc. Blaming immigrants for what the automobile wrought is just unfair.

As for strip malls, stores move out of these for different reasons. Here are a couple--I'm sure there are others:

  1. They change formats (e.g., from Wal-Mart to Super Wal-Mart) and realize that it's cheaper to build a new building than to modify, expand or refurbish the old one.
  2. Supermarkets and big box retailers realize that if they close down to refurbish, their customers will go to their competitors and never come back. It's better to build a new building elsewhere and then close the old store only when the new store has opened.
What this means is that the strip malls and buildings built for big box stores will always become "seedy" at some point. Other, more affluent communities also have these "seedy" old strip malls. Drive down Randall Road to St. Charles if you don't believe me.

If you understand this, you can appreciate the positive that comes when an immigrant converts one of these worn-out stores or strip malls and puts something vital in its place. The Elgin Fruit Market on Summit is a fine example. Jewel-Osco moved out of this site a long time ago, because their format changed--they wanted a new building. They weren't running away from poor people!

But once Jewel left, the building became "seedy." Eventually, Sears Hardware moved in, and then it became Sears Outlet. But until the Elgin Fruit Market came, it wasn't very pleasant to look at or visit. Elgin Fruit Market, a supermarket probably owned by immigrants and catering to immigrants, did great work there, and nobody paid attention. I can't recall a single newspaper article that brought to attention the fact that they recently completed a successful and major expansion.

We need to give credit when credit is due. And we need to stop blaming immigrants for all of Elgin's problems.


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