January 11, 2008

Taking the next step

At a time when most students were still sleeping off finals-week blues, the Co-Op Market’s shareholders delivered a blow to protectionism’s stranglehold on Hyde Park. Sixty percent of ballots cast favored dissolving the grocer, persuading the board to submit to the community’s demand. A new University-backed grocer is scheduled to arrive by mid-February. This is a positive step, but it should be only the first of many in a new era of Hyde Park development.

The search for a replacement for outgoing Vice President of Community Affairs Hank Webber presents a prime opportunity to identify the weaknesses in the neighborhood’s retail options and hire someone committed to addressing these problems. The University and the new vice president of community affairs should collaborate with local groups either to develop locally owned businesses or to recruit outside merchants.

Even with a new grocer, Hyde Park still lacks clothing stores and many other retail outlets, forcing local residents to take a trip—and their money—elsewhere. The University, with its significant commercial real estate holdings in the neighborhood, is in a unique position to promote Hyde Park’s commercial stature.

More retail options would boost the University, Hyde Park, and the South Side. The University would benefit by providing a more attractive home for professors and prospective students alike. Local residents would spend less time commuting to retail stores; gone would be the days of trekking across town to purchase a sweatshirt which doesn’t read “Hyde Park” across the front. Equally importantly, these new businesses would generate a boost in the job market.

Unfortunately, local activists have long opposed such economic development. The recent Co-Op vote suggests that the community may finally be moving past the anti-corporate mentality that has stalled Hyde Park. Recent history has proven that large chains can co-exist with locally owned businesses. Starbucks and Third World Cafe are both popular destinations for coffee drinkers. Borders has not bankrupted 57th Street Books.

After decades of high prices and bad food, our community is finally getting a competent supermarket. Hyde Park deserves a lot more, however, and the University and surrounding community should not be satisfied with what is merely a good start.