The moment occurred a couple years ago, when I was sitting at a patio table outside Pasha. An empty storefront across the road caught my eye. Or maybe it wasn’t empty, just sleepy. Anyway, I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be great if that space held a little specialty foods market, or a gallery? Or what if it were another cafe, but the kind that serves wine and cheese?” No sooner had the thought processed when a wiser voice shouted inside my brain, “What the hell is wrong with you, Tara?”
I had fallen into the bougie trap, the self-defeating mindset that permits the worst sort of gentrification to occur. First come the cafes and the foodie destination restaurants. Then the galleries follow, along with the boutiques. Pretty soon you’re staring through the front window of an artisan dog biscuit bakery, because you’ll never actually go in. You can’t afford that stuff even if you wanted it, which you don’t. That’s for the other people, those who have the means to buy and refurbish the historic house you can barely afford to rent (especially since the landlord just raised your rate). In my experience, this is what it means to live in a hip, vibrant neighborhood. And though I’ve suffered the trap’s drawbacks, I still struggle with this knee-jerk craving for its perks.
Scenic St. Elmo already has so much going for it - plenty of practical things (post office, library, dry cleaner, banks, gas station, pharmacies and a Bi-lo) plus the bonus coffee house, brewery, burgers, BBQ, pizza and burritos that make it so much fun. But clearly our neighborhood is on the eve of becoming something more; the nascent Riverwalk extension is certainly just the beginning and I’m personally thrilled about any initiative that increases walkability. Progress ought to be a beautiful thing. But as we move forward, it’s important for me to value our community’s solid foundation of affordable, everyday goods and services that could be lost in pursuit of that which is cool, trendy, and chic. The latter has its own value, especially when it comes to drawing moneyed folks and tourists. But it also has a way of displacing natives.