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Grocers’ Genocidal Gentrification Should Be Mitigated, Says Campbell
9/7/2016 5:17:24 PM

Bi-Lo Grocery store at 445 Meeting Street in Downtown Charleston will close its doors on October 5, 2016
By Barney Blakeney

Bi-Lo grocery store at 445 Meeting St. in Charleston is set to set to close October 5 after operating less than three years at the former Piggly Wiggly store location. Charleston’s iconic Piggly Wiggly store had operated at the location some 52 years. The changing landscape in the area being called Charleston’s ‘Midtown’ is continuing a modernization many find discomforting and inconvenient. Some say its also a racist trend toward gentrification.
For decades the Piggly Wiggly store at Meeting and Columbus streets in downtown Charleston was more than a landmark, it had become symbolic of the city’s business and cultural communities. For equally as long the store was the chain’s flagship store.

Despite sales receipts that averaged about $250,000 weekly, according to one source, Piggly Wiggly sold the store to Bi-Lo owners Southeastern Grocers, Inc. The approximately two-acre property recently sold for over $10 million. Future plans for the property have not been disclosed.

While some cite the grocer’s closing as the end of an era, others say it represents the loss of an essential community asset and more. Charleston City Councilman James Lewis worked at the Piggly Wiggly store 42 years until retiring in 2013. The loss of the grocery store will have an immense impact on the neighboring community, he said.

Midtown shoppers who had depended on the store as their most convenient and affordable option experienced some inconvenience when the store closed several year ago for remodeling. Permanent closure will force those shoppers to go to the Food Lion store on upper King Street or Harris Teeter on East Bay Street in the historic district. For many of the midtown’’s lower income residents, that means a logistical and financial impact, Lewis said.

Former Charleston City Councilman Robert Ford said the closure of the store constitutes genocide for low income consumers. Closing Bi-Lo simply is another effort to gentrify the city, he said.

“Hundreds of those shoppers don’t have transportation. The city’s administration has forced out 65 percent of downtown’s black population. This is unbelievable. We cannot let this injustice happen,” Ford said while others call for a boycott of all Bi-Lo stores until the decision to close the Meeting Street store is rescinded.

But another former city councilman, Kwadjo Campbell, said nothing will change with the closure of the store. Local government that facilitates redevelopment never has done anything to preserve the African American culture and heritage so rooted in the history of the business and its location, he said, and won’t do anything to preserve that history and culture now.

Reflecting on redevelopment trends that began in the area nearly two decades ago, Campbell said what can make a difference is for developers to mitigate the impact of redevelopment to residents. Until developers make residents a part of the redevelopment boom rather than only being pushed out by it nothing will happen, he said.

It’s glaringly foreseeable that whatever redevelopment of the property takes place, only minimal benefits will be gained by the black community, Campbell said. He cautioned that similar results will be derived from redevelopment of the Cooper River bridges’ former footprint several blocks to the north on Meeting Street at Lee Street.

“We (the black community) have some responsibility in what’s taking place,” Campbell said. “Our leadership has to stand up and confront those who come to us singing “Cum By Yah’ songs as they hinder our progress. We have to listen to those some are calling radicals,” he said.

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