Le boutquier dans le quartier: the shopkeeper in the da hood

Is the glue that holds communities together the same tube of glue some families need? An old family rift just recently got deeper and I’m desperate to make reparations it’s just I’ve spent a career looking at the fabric of our physical environment, and little on the fabric of the lives that occupy and animate it.

Take as a for instance, the role of the corner store: the power of place to convene strangers, cause chance encounters, make routine a tradition. I think of my year in a small town in England, the derogatory phase “Paki” used to describe immigrant- mainly Pakistani-owned corner stores, and the antidote band Cornershop, but also of school kids let out in the afternoon and stopping in for a jawbreaker or licorice rope (anything that lasts longer than the rest of the walk home).

Sweet memories: Children spend their pocket money in a traditional candy shop the likes of which are all-but forgotten today from Real England by Paul Kingsnorth, published by Portobello Books
Sweet memories: Children spend their pocket money in a traditional candy shop the likes of which are all-but forgotten today from Real England by Paul Kingsnorth, published by Portobello Books

In England’s The Daily Mail, I found the article How England is Losing the Very Things That Make it Worth Living in, extolling the virtues of this special kind of ‘third place’, and railing on a bit more about globalization and the demise of the independent and locally-based society and economy (to which I might blog on later). Or the local bakery, bar or pub. To hear “…haven’t seen you in awhile, Mr. Jones, how have you been…” gets you humming the Cheers theme song “…where everybody knows your name…and they’re always glad you came…”.

How about the family restaurant, and that family who owns it? They are not immune to dysfunction, but by their place in an extended family, a neighborhood community or perhaps part of local lore and tradition (“…when you’re in Durham, you have to eat at the Magnolia Grill…” or Bullock’s Barbeque one!), these families may be more prone to sticking it out, for a greater calling, one beyond oneself or profit alone.

Common uses for cornmeal in the South: haute cuisine or homecooking, food IS identity
Common uses for cornmeal in the South: haute cuisine or homecooking, food IS identity

Can a labor of love be a living and a calling? Can working together on the survival and success of the family business be the same spirit that communities and towns and nations need to thrive?

And can the family find meaning in their collective successes and failures, validated by sales revenues or simply smiling satisfied customers or the cordial greeting or paid compliment: “…hello Ms. Jones, what a fine hat…”.

There is risk to putting out your wares, hanging your shingle and engaging the public realm. The payback is immeasurable, in place-building, identity and belonging. Le boutquier dans le quartier: the shopkeeper in da hood is code for the role locally owned independent catalysts of humanity play in neighborhoods everywhere (you just have to look harder these days).

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