The Business of Poverty

Posted: February 3, 2012 in government, Leadership, Neighborhoods, South Bend, vision

[This is a series of blogs dealing with issues pertaining to condition of neighborhoods on the South Side of South Bend.  You can read the first couple of posts here , here , here, & here.]

A few years ago Jennae Gee and I attended a conference on Bridges Out of Poverty at the Century Center here in South Bend.  The conference was based on the work of Ruby Payne.  It was incredibly insightful.  One of the things that was mentioned in the conference was the “type” of businesses that reflect an area of poverty.  I’m sure you know this experientially as you note the difference between the businesses found in an impoverished area, and those found in a more affluent area (e.g., Granger, Grape Rd. & Main St. in Mishawaka).    In the conference they provided a list of the kinds of businesses that begin to take over a neighborhood when it is sliding towards, or is in, poverty.  They listed the following:

  • Pawn shops
  • Liquor stores
  • Corner stores (like…the shady looking ones that you’re just a little suspect of in regards to what they are really selling)
  • Rent to own stores
  • Laundromats
  • Fast food restaurants (if there are any restaurants at all)
  • Check cashing
  • Temp services
  • Used-car lots (you should count how many are on Michigan Street!)
  • Dollar stores
As soon as they read the list, I immediately started thinking about the kind of businesses that existed on the South side of South Bend.  YES…we do have the Ireland Rd. business district (corridor) that runs from Ironwood to West of Michigan that contains businesses that reflect a non-impovershed area (e.g., Target, Kohl’s, Supermarkets, etc.).  But as soon as you move north of Ireland Rd. things change quickly and dramatically!
Below is a slide show of businesses that are on two major corridors coming into the city of South Bend from the South side.  One is Michigan Street (the “Southgate” of the city) [pictures are from Chippewa to Indiana Ave.] and the other is Miami St. (also known as the “Miami Village Association”) [pictures are from Ewing St. to about Indiana Ave.].  Take a few minutes to look at these photos and see if you don’t recognize in them that the these main arteries into the city are “impoverished areas.”  Side note:  the pictures are almost exhaustive of businesses on these two street.  I did leave out Bob Miller’s Appliance Store (a great exception here on the South Side), the Landing Catering & Banquet hall, 1st Source bank, and a host of muffler or body shops.
Thank you to Ann Lynn who took these photos!
The question is – how do we stop the movement towards greater poverty in regards to the “types” of businesses that are located on the South side of South Bend?  How do we encourage investment by businesses that reflect opportunities for growth, jobs, and economic development?  What incentives can be offered or provided to turn the tide towards businesses that help a neighborhood rise above its declining state?

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  1. Jim says:

    Two things.

    (1) A number of years ago my dad took a management job with a company that wanted to manufacture display racks in South Bend. His first task was to select a site. He deliberately chose a place in a blighted part of the west side. There were two advantages. First, the place wasn’t expensive, which the company owner liked. Second, it brought jobs to a part of town that needed them, which was Dad’s real purpose. (Dad has a heart for the west side because his family moved there when they came here from W. Va.) He didn’t limit his hiring to the area around the facility, but did draw a number of employees from that area — many of whom walked or rode a bicycle to work because they couldn’t afford a car, people for whom finding manufacturing jobs would otherwise have been much more difficult For the time that company operated, they did fractionally improve quality of life there through those jobs. I guess my point is that it takes deliberate decisions to bring jobs to a declining part of town.

    (2) I live in a declining part of Indianapolis. My sons’ mom remarried and her new husband built her a home in the Geist side of Fishers, which is like Granger on steroids. There are liquor stores in her area and mine. The signs on the liquor stores near me say “Liquor,” while the signs on the liquor stores in her area say “Fine Spirits.” It’s all in the marketing! Also, there are hospital-affiliated immediate care centers in her neighborhood. The nearest one to mine is miles away and is independent, because there’s not enough money nearby for the hospitals to bother.

  2. the other ed says:

    I think there is something more, as well. These stores spring up because of a need for their services, real or perceived. The dollar stores do well because they provide inexpensive goods…payday loan stores because people are broke and desperate, and desperate people do not make good financial decisions (I know firsthand)…and the liquor stores do well because of a need by the people in that neighborhood for a functional saviour…booze.
    All of this exists because the cost of living in South Bend often exceeds the wages of the average person living there. I live in Plymouth and I pay 800 dollars per month in rent. For the same size house, but a little more run down (this exists a lot on the west side), I would pay minimum 1000 dollars per month. In a little better neighborhood, 1200. And, rent is high because the taxes are high across the board.
    I agree with Jim in that, it will take intententionality to fix this! By landlords, by business owners, and especially by city leadership.

  3. david says:

    Nice presentation. Better than Google Maps!
    Another issue around me is food deserts — a lack of available, healthy food — typically because of no grocery stores for a certain area. It can be very difficult for people who do not have a car to get healthy food. The Kroger in my neighborhood has historically carried second-rate produce and few organic choice (it finally started carrying wheat bread a year ago!). We have heard that it will be closing down soon, which is devastating for those in the nearby projects who can walk to this store, but will have to catch a bus to some other grocery store. No wonder so many people just eat at the local Popeye’s, Captain D’s, or Mrs. Winner’s — they’re not healthy, but they’re cheap.

  4. Loving my Husband says:

    Growing up in a very small town of mostly middle to upper middle class families, I didn’t realize any of this until I moved here. When I started working for SBCSC it changed my perspective of life. Now I see how blessed I was and how difficult some people have it, either conditionally or otherwise. I used to talk about the families that moved every couple of months because they can’t pay the rent or the families where the children don’t know their parents current cell phone numbers. It concerns me that we, as a society not only allow it but do nothing about it.

  5. Having a clientele to serve makes a big difference. Downtown suffers in the evenings and weekends because few people live there. If there were nice studio apartments and lofts, that would attract college students and recent grads. Typically they have the most disposable income. If you can peg tax levels for mixed income housing, then a diversity of people can live in an area without complete gentrification. All to say, that takes a big commitment from the city to help finance it.

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