Get off the couch or share the blame

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The makeover of Eminence seems to be on everyone’s minds these days.

This paper has provided a good deal of coverage on the demolition of the old buildings and the coming of the new.

It is, as it should be, a big deal—these changes will drastically affect the appearance of the town as well as its economy. Some folks are fine with what’s going on. Some are not.

Eminence is being transformed from a small town that had some unique character and individuality into a place of no special distinction from any other; it is yet another example of the leveling of culture and the obliteration of community.

One could simply rail at CVS and the evils of corporatism. You know, take a stand against ‘The Man.’ But it’s not that easy. I am typing this on an Apple computer. I might have a couple of shirts in my closet that were made in Bangladesh, but I am afraid to look. My point is that it is not the function of a corporation to “play nice.”

I recall (and paraphrase) a quote from the CEO of one of the giant automobile corporations several years ago: ”We are not in the business of making cars, we are in the business of making money.” A corporation’s social responsibility is to earn money for its shareholders. I get it.

But really, it’s not ‘them.’ Big business does not bear most of the responsibility for the homogenization of small cities, we do. The blame for the atrophy of our communities—whether rural towns or urban neighborhoods—is rooted in our boundless indifference. It might cost you a small fortune to attend a CVS shareholders’ meeting, but you can certainly make a difference on your home turf.

You might not be able to control what comes in, but you can make it fit. And while it is true that it is not the job of government to repair buildings, it is the job of government to keep them from falling into disrepair.

One of the routine functions of local government is to require that structures be properly cared for. Routine maintenance laws as well as planning and preservation ordinances have been around for decades.

Moreover, the effect of the arrival of these corporate enterprises is not merely one of aesthetics; there will be an immediate economic impact not only on the owners of Cook’s, but other hometown businesses as well.

Am I being an alarmist when I predict that after our shiny new pharmacy completes all the necessary paperwork that our two locally owned liquor stores will soon be dead meat?

People will go to no extra effort to visit a town with a box chain store as its city center. But suppose there was, today, a fine restaurant in a rehabilitated and restored Moody Hotel. Imagine a row of small, interesting retail shops along East Broadway between Main and Penn Streets. Would that have made a difference?

Other places, large and small, have revitalized their downtowns—and salvaged some of their history—with this strategy. I don’t think a comparison between Eminence and La Grange is apples and oranges. Of course La Grange is larger and has a busy interstate highway skirting it. But the key difference is that La Grange has had a core group of active citizens who refuse to let their town become just another faceless corporate exchange with a traffic light.

Why are we so willing to jettison our past for the sake of what we blindly call progress? The razing of remarkable old buildings—particularly, in this case, the old bank building—is not ‘growth’ by any sense of the word. New businesses should not be granted a presumption of ‘quality ‘ just because they are housed in a spiffy new building.

Will there be a group of exasperated citizens at a 2015 Eminence City Council meeting—right after the McDonald’s has driven the Chat ‘n’ Nibble out of business—asking why nothing can be done to save the beautiful old Odd Fellows building?

I have an idea. Quick. Grab the remote. Hit the OFF button. Get up off the couch and into your community. Do something.