Saturday, November 6, 2010

Between the Lines - Flagpole "Athens Rising" Nov. 3rd

Oh, Flagpole. How I’ve missed Elaine Ely’s column ‘Miscellany,’ (the title was a pun: Miss Elaine E., get it?). For those of you who missed its brief two-month run, Miscellany was a public journal of Athens arts and culture (culture as something you buy, something that costs a lot of money—preferably something you can eat or drink, art as something that you are very much interested in as an accessory to your glamorous lifestyle) written by a wealthy person who had just moved to Athens from a big city, and wish we had just a little more culture—as defined above—and art, and was prepared to tell us where we could find it. More often than not, it was at the bottom of a wine glass.

Normally Kevan Williams writes F-pole’s ‘Athens Rising’ column. He muses on all the ways our city planning could be more effective/responsible etc. There’s some good ideas in it from time to time. This week’s column was written by a gentleman named Dan Lorentz.

So tell us about yourself Dan.

When my wife and I came to Athens about three years ago, we fell in love with Boulevard and its proximity to downtown from the start and bought a house located in the middle of the neighborhood on Lyndon Avenue. But almost as soon as we finished moving in, I started dreaming of a neighborhood grocery store.

What an interesting dream, Dan. I have a reucurring dream that involves riding a school bus as it speeds towards this huge gap in the road that it has to jump across. Sometimes I’m eating a box of donuts in this dream. Sometimes there’s a large man dressed in a bunny suit sitting on my lap. But you dream of neighborhood grocery stores. That’s cool. By the way, have you ever been to the Daily Co-op?

In every other city we’ve lived in, we’ve been able to walk to a decent-sized grocery store—and I had gotten accustomed to that.

Well sure, Dan. But there’s tradeoffs to everything, isn’t there? And I guess buying a house in one of the most expensive neighborhoods in town, within walking distance to downtown, outweighs being able to walk to a decent-sized grocery store. That did factor into your decision, right? Oh, and Dan? You probably already noticed this, but 200 days out of the year, it totally sucks to walk around outside in Athens.

So I began daydreaming of a grocery store. I found a great location for one just a block from my house in a big parking lot at the corner of Chase Street and Dubose Avenue—kitty-corner from Chase Street Elementary School.

Only one block from your house? That’s pretty fucking convenient, Dan. But it is your dream, I guess.

And it had a name: Green Thrift Grocery.

The worst name for a dream grocery store ever—assuming there aren’t any dream grocery stores with the words ‘pus,’ ‘cum bubble,’ or ‘excrement’ in their name.

While it would be a small-format store—just 10,000 square feet (considerably smaller than, say, the 50,000-plus-square-foot Kroger on Alps Road)—it would be full-service. At Green Thrift, you’d be able to get fresh, locally grown foods in season and pretty much everything else a conventional store has to offer (even if there’d be slightly fewer choices), including beer and wine.

You think your store’s going to sell beer and wine? Not kitty-corner from Chase Street elementary it isn’t. But shit, I don’t live too far from where you’re talking about. I wouldn’t mind a ‘full-service grocery store’ myself. Of course, I do go to the Daily Co-op a lot. Are you sure you haven’t heard of it?

The store would have a street-facing coffee shop area where you could visit with neighbors. Green Thrift would allow neighborhood customers to roll grocery carts home and have them retrieved by the store.

Um. Dan? Look, I know this is just a dream, a fantasy, a musing-out-loud of impossible things. But did you just say that you’d be able to take your grocery cart home with you? And that someone would have to then walk to your house and bring it back to the store? That someone would have to go to EVERY customer’s house and bring their carts back to the store? Hey, Dan. You love to walk so much? Bring your own fucking cart back to the store you overprivileged dick. In fact, while I’m thinking of it, I bet there’s a hell of a lot more neighborhoods than fucking BOULEVARD that don’t have a grocery store within walking distance of their homes. I’ll give you a hint, Dan. They don’t own their homes.

If you’re familiar with my neighborhood, you might be inclined at this juncture to point out, as a friend of mine did, that I live about a half-mile from Daily Groceries Co-op on Prince Avenue.

Pointed it out several paragraphs below, but yes, I think that’s a good point.

This is true. It’s not a hard walk for me at all, though crossing Prince can be nasty.
Well, Dan. It’s true that Prince doesn’t allow people to post youtube videos of his songs, but I’m sure he has his— Oh wait. You’re talking about Prince Ave. Hey, Dan go down to Milledge. Cross at the light. It’s not that bad.

The store stocks lots of great produce, bread, coffee and other staples. And it’s a sociable place.

So there you go. Problem solved, right? Except for the whole beer and wine thing. But you can go for a drive once a week, right? I mean, it’s not like you don’t own a car. Unlike the people in those other neighborhoods anyway.

I talked to Michael Wegner—a former Daily Groceries manager, musician and fellow neighborhood resident—about the store. He lives about four blocks from the store and says he goes there almost every day. “It’s the perfect distance for me to bring Amelia along,” he says, referring to his five-year-old daughter. “With the store so close, I just come by every day or so and get what I need,” he says. He says sometimes they don’t have exactly what he had in mind to cook that night, but he’ll find something. “And it’s fresh, and I don’t have to plan out meals for a week.”

There you go. Michael Wegner does it. It’s not your dream grocery store, but who says that dreams always have to come true. Besides Dan, it sounds like you’re already living a better life—financially, at least—than most people in our town. By the way Dan, did you know this is the 5th poorest county of its size in the entire United States of Fucking America? Holy shit!

Which is what I want to be able to do, too. But Daily Groceries doesn’t sell meat or wine.

So drive to Kroger once a week, or Earthfare if that’s more your style.

There is bottle shop not too far from me, and Los Compadres, for example—on Prince in Normaltown—is fairly walkable for me and has an impressive meat counter. I’m going to test-run the feasibility of doing my more or less daily shopping on foot in my neighborhood.

Yeah, you do that. Just keep in mind that, as far as ‘dreams not coming true’ is concerned, you’re doing pretty well. By the way that typo in the previous paragraph is Flagpole's fault, not mine.

But I suspect I’ll still be pining for a full-service store like the Green Thrift Grocery of my dreams—or another branch of the reality-based Earth Fare, for example—to locate near me.

Yeah, I kinda suspect you will. But I think asking Earthfare to build stores every mile apart so people can walk to them sounds pretty fucking weird. And unprofitable. Actually, I just had a couple of thoughts, Dan. Here’s one. Walk to fucking Earthfare. A friend of mine lives about as far away as you do. He walks there and back five days a week to go to his job. Or here’s another thought. There’s this thing that runs up and down Milledge every ten minutes called a bus. Why not try riding it? You could even start up conversations with people just like in your imaginary coffee shop. Or do you only like to imagine yourself talking to other Boulevard residents?

Now, as another friend of mine suggested, maybe my wife and I should have bought a home in Five Points—where Earth Fare is located—so that we could be near a smaller format full-service grocery with a coffee shop, which is obviously so important to us.

You sure do have some smart fucking friends, Dan.

But for a variety of reasons, including that we just didn’t feel like we’d be good Five Points material, we chose Boulevard.

‘Good Five Points material?’ What the fuck does that mean? And Dan, just so we’re clear about this, you do realize that ‘choosing Boulevard’ is something that 90%-plus of the residents in this town aren't able to do? Because they can’t afford it?

So let’s get this straight. Dan loves to walk. He loves to walk so much and it just kills him that he can’t walk to the grocery store each day to get his food and beer and wine. However, Dan hates walking back to the grocery store to return his cart (even though he’d only live around the block). Dan hates walking a mile to Earthfare. Dan hates walking to Los Compadres and the Daily Co-op. And Dan hates the idea of living in Five Points because he doesn’t like the identity that comes with living in Five Points.

But apparently the identity of a rich spoiled elitist prick who could give a shit what anyone else might need or want in this community, that identity suits him just fine.

People are fucking weird.

In my next column, I’ll sort through some of the demographic, economic, attitudinal, zoning and legal challenges facing neighborhood groceries in Athens.

Oh my god. I can’t wait.


Robert said...

Basically the best thing I have read on the internet in days. Well done.

Anonymous said...


Deb said...

Absolutely spot-on. I laughed out loud several times. I loathed that guy upon reading that smug impotent screed, and am glad you had the ammo to go after him. I wish he would read it.

Josephine Roach said...

Har har! I'll bet this guy thinks his farts don't stink and that his friend's farts actually smell really good.

Nate said...

the line "You love to walk so much? Bring your own fucking cart back to the store you overprivileged dick" succeeded in making me spray soda out my nose from laughing. kudos!

Anonymous said...

I think you kind of missed the point of the column. If you want fewer cars, less pollution, and more local businesses, than increasing walk-ability of neighborhoods is key. Expanding the number of neighborhood-based groceries - so everyone can get to one easily and pleasantly - is good for that, because groceries are such an obviously important part of everyday life. And small increases in distance matter here - not everyone can carry multiple bags of groceries for more than a few blocks. And not having beer/wine available means a car trip to the 'burbs - are you really in favor of that?

The disappearance of true neighborhood groceries has been devastating for disadvantaged neighborhoods. If you care about this population as much as you claim to, you should be jumping on this bandwagon, not trashing it.

Anonymous said...

I don't think this blog is missing the point. The Flagpole guy lives in a nice neighborhood with a neighborhood grocery store that is very walkable, which he does not want to support because it does not have every single item he wants. All of the things he wants are walkable to his location, but he wants to bring another store into the neighborhood - a store which already has a location an easy two mile bike ride away.

Perhaps the Daily would evolve into the type of place he's thinking of if more local residents shopped there. I don't think it's the same situation as someone who lives in a disadvantaged area and only has a poorly stocked convenience store within walking distance, or someone who lives in a rural area and has to drive 15+ minutes to a grocery store.

Anonymous said...

If you're going to start improving the community in any way, it should start with people who need it, not the Boulevard area. And for the record, I live in Boulevard, and buy most of my groceries/booze/whatever in Boulevard (Daily + J's, and both farmers markets which are close enough) via walking and biking. Even Kroger, Earth Fare, and Trader Joe's don't carry EVERY thing I need, it's a fact of life that you can't get every item you want to buy in one place. Get over it.

Also, anon, there IS beer and wine available in the area. J's is a great liquor store. Right off of Boulevard. Right there.

Also, public transportation (though it's not ideally frequent) goes to all these other grocery stores. It's possible to get all over town without a car. It just seems like this guy doesn't want to bother with the rest of Athens. I'm from a small town where the nearest grocery store was over 15 miles away, and I wasn't bitching about it. Conveniences like grocery stores within walking distance of everyone exist in cities, and Athens is a small town. Maybe he shouldn't live here.

buster wills said...

hello!!!! green thrift grocery is a real store!!! fuck it, this guy who wrote about the grocery store is dumb, but not because he had a dumb idea, he's an idiot because he ripped off somebody else's dumb idea and called it his own.