LET’S DO BETTER
Absence of proper resources in underserved neighborhoods has been at the forefront of discussion since the 1960s riots. During that era, businesses began moving out of center-cities across America. Riots, however, were not the only reason entrepreneurs abandoned center-cities. Other explanations for the desertions were, “high crime and poor sales.”
However, a 47-year-old African American man, Wendell Pierce, contended this thinking is unfounded and literally “put his money where his mouth is.” Pierce’s boldness is worth “writing about.” We are into the holiday season and the time is ripe for a good story. Thus, we will start with Pierce and for the remainder of this year highlight those individuals who are defying the status quo.
Pierce is best known for his roles in HBO dramas. He is a wealthy man and describes himself as a capitalist. Some wealthy
business people have designated Pierce a “classic entrepreneur.” Yet, this native son of New Orleans has a somewhat different view of profitmaking. While most business owners avoid investments in underserved areas, Pierce sees such locations as “prime targets.”
Locally, and across the nation, center cities are void of swanky malls, beautiful supermarkets and cutting edge shops. Pierce said, such absences need not be. He contends all Americans are “brand loyal” and respond to the same enticements. He said he believes attractive, properly stocked, conveniently located supermarkets would be well received by underserved communities. In addition, he said he believes underserved residents deserve such food establishments, just as more affluent neighborhoods.
In March, this Tony award-winning producer founded a new grocery chain, “Sterling Farms.” This supermarket, located in Marrero, La., is well stocked with produce, fresh foods and prime cuts of meat. Pierce said:
“The lack of access to fresh produce sends people to other poor choices, which is fast food or processed food. We watched over the past couple of years at our convenience stores that when you give people the choice, as corny as it sounds, the impulse becomes to buy an apple or a banana, instead of a candy bar.”
The Marrero Grocery is the first of four planned supermarkets under Pierce’s ownership. He owns two convenience stores in Louisiana and plans to open two more. Pierce said opening supermarkets in urban areas makes for good economic recovery. He said low and middle income people must have access to healthy food choices. He talked of a woman, shopping in his supermarket, crying and thanking him for placing the supermarket in her neighborhood.
Pierce was motivated to open supermarkets after his restoration of Pontchartrain Park, the neighborhood where he was reared. This neighborhood was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. The devastation was especially emotional for Pierce as his parents had fought for this area during the 1950s, in segregated New Orleans. Pontchartrain Park was one of the few areas Pierce described as “separate but equal.” The restoration project caused Pierce to research other underserved problem areas which led to his supermarket endeavors.
Pierce’s approach is worth mimicking. Somewhere along the way, some Americans became obsessed with the idea that some people enjoy misery and love unhealthy lifestyles. Yet, the reality is people either can’t do better or don’t know better. Both conditions are changeable. Pierce recognized there were people in this Louisiana town who couldn’t do better (make healthy food choices) because wholesome foods were not in their neighborhood and too far away (affluent neighborhoods) to access.
Most of us lack the resources to open supermarkets. However, all of us can refrain from sentiments of “some people just don’t want to do better.” We can vote for politicians who favor providing incentives to entrepreneurs who will invest in underserved neighborhoods. We (those who live in “served” neighborhoods) can leave the comfort of our own neighborhoods and financially support center city businesses. The former suggestion is really a “reasonable service.” Get your Escalades and Mercedes out of the garage, come through the center city, and buy goods and services from that areas’ businesses.
Now that we know better, let’s do better.