Last week, I attended the City of Takoma Park's unveiling of The New Ave, a website and marketing campaign for the New Hampshire Avenue corridor. Officials from the city and Montgomery and Prince George's counties took a bus tour of the area, followed by a visit to two local businesses. As Mayor Bruce Williams held a photo op outside El Alazan Western Wear, which sells cowboy-themed clothes to the Latino population, a black guy in an SUV drove by. "Are y'all doing anything to stop the Latinos from pushing everybody else out?" he yelled.
East County has a slew of small businesses, from auto shops, to Indian groceries to a pirate-themed restaurant. And they all have small clienteles, whether it's neighborhood residents who need their car fixed, Indian immigrants, or people who like to wear eye patches and sing sea shanties. (Sign me up for all three.) There are also people who feel "pushed out" by these businesses, frustrated or angry that their specific needs aren't being served by them and wondering if they deserve a place in the community. There are a lot of awesome local businesses in East County that I patronize and support, and plenty more that I don't. But that doesn't mean they don't benefit me or anyone else.
There are six Dominican hair salons in Downtown Silver Spring, patronized by Latinos and blacks who share the same the nappy hair (like my own) that is native to the Dominican Republic. If you have straight hair, these places are useless to you. But they still pay County taxes, provide customers for other businesses both local and chains, and keep the sidewalks busy and safe. Why push them out just to bring in some trendy, upscale retailer? Who says one deserves to be in the "new" Silver Spring more than the other, or that they couldn't coexist?
The store that sells bootleg Ghanel T-shirts in City Place is as significant to Downtown as the American Apparel across the street. They both have their clienteles. They might even have some of the same customers! But one somehow appears more favorable than the other. We can't dictate who should or shouldn't set up shop in the CBD, because every time the market will prove us wrong. City Place Mall had a Nordstrom Rack fifteen years ago, which closed due to poor sales and very different demographics than they'd planned for. That store would probably do much better today, primed by the higher-spending crowds on Ellsworth Drive.
The people who come to Downtown Silver Spring are a mix of rich and poor, hip and unhip, white, black and everything in between. And they need stores as diverse as they are. We need chains to anchor the locals and we need the locals - all of them - to serve their niche audiences. The more we've got to offer here, the more reasons people have to come to Silver Spring and the more reasons we don't have to commute elsewhere in MoCo or the region to spend money.
As far as I'm concerned, "local" can always mean "good", because local businesses can support the economy and draw more traffic to Downtown Silver Spring and commercial districts throughout East County, whether you personally benefit from them or not.
Last week, Silver Spring, Singular suggested I should be giving tours of Burtonsville strip malls; when I do, he might want to join me. Anyone who's ventured above the Beltway knows that there's a really awesome "Restaurant Row" forming along Route 198, with