Thursday, February 16, 2006

Two Takes On Place

What does "this place" really mean, in real life?

It can mean lots of things. A couple of them were suggested to me by two letters to the editor, on the very same page of the North Coast Journal a couple of weeks ago.

The Journal had published an interview with Cherie Arkley about her plan for a development on the Eureka waterfront that includes at least one "big box" store, Home Depot. At the moment, opposition is gearing up to the Arkley plan, and a lot of it is aimed at the effects of generic Big Box development.

But apart from the merits of that approach, I was intrigued by a letter from Duncan B. MacLaren, Fieldbrook, that zeroed in on the more specific question of whether this particular place--not the waterfront exactly, but the North Coast area---needs this particular Big Box: Home Depot. Underlying the question is the demonstrable fact that at least some Big Box stores drive out local businesses. Wal-Mart of course drives out just about every kind of retail business, that's been demonstrated over and over again. But MacLaren seems to be wondering if we need a Home Depot, given the other similiar businesses here, and given the likelihood of Home Depot driving out other hardware stores etc., is it worth it?

MacLaren doesn't think so. He doesn't think "a 3-way lamp socket" is really going to be any cheaper at Home Depot than at various Ace Hardware stores already here. And whether Home Depot, where "lumber has never been its strong suit" would offer the variety and expertise of local businesses it might hurt or destroy. His conclusion: "Give me the expertise and variety of an Almquist or a Mill Yard every time."

At this point a more recent immigrant to the area may shed some light. When I think of what's different about "this place," it certainly includes places like Almquist and especially another store he mentions: Pierson's.

I've just never seen a store quite like Pierson's anywhere. The combination of variety, of sales and value, and of friendly expertise, is phenomenal. Plus this business has apparently been deeply involved in local communities for a long time, and has provided good jobs for people---judging from their commercials, with low turnover.

I'll bet it's part of the community's image to outsiders as well. When I think of Portland, I automatically think of Powell's bookstores and the Coffee People (who make the best mochas on the planet, consistently.) I'll bet there are people who when they think of Eureka think of Pierson's. So the question becomes, do we want to mess that up, and become just like the rest of the country, all buying at Home Depots? Would we risk that, or is there really room in this area for a big box Home Depot?

This letter was about a change that, if made, could harm something that makes this place This Place. The second letter was about a change that may have already done so. It was from Jessica Puccinelli in Fortuna. It begins: "On Jan. 3, the Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to have Jack Noble's gravel crusher installed in our residential neighborhood on the bank of the Van Duzen. Those who made the decision hadn't driven our one-lane road or seen our homes."

She goes on to say they would have seen what a nice, thriving neighborhood it was, with a particular character to its homes, people and businesses. But---"They would not have seen the Nobles. They started the mining and moved out." Possibly because of all the noise, dust, water pollution and traffic due to the gravel trucks. (The name of "Noble" is all too perfect, unfortunately. Not as a quality but as the nobles who own the land, but don't live there.)

But if the supervisors had come, she contines, "they might even have seen a mated pair of bald eagles, our national bird, that also nest here. They're a beautiful sight. With a noisy crusher and more truck traffic, we may never [see] those birds again. And neither will anyone else."

That says it all. I don't know for a fact if what she says is accurate, but what made her neighborhood "this place" for Jessica, also made it a particular place for everyone. And now (she fears, as we all should) it's become just another ruined landscape,which are all too common. They are so common that it's often hard to remember what actual places look like.

All the characteristics of her place--the quiet, the bed & breakfast, the homes and the businesses suited for just that place, and the presence of that particular pair of bald Eagles--all gone.

It all becomes just like every no-place else.


Anonymous said...

How do the big box stores drive out local businesses? The locals have to make a choice where to shop.

Anonymous said...

I agree. I think Home Depot is ok and if you don't want to shop there - then don't. An acquaintance was telling me about a certain faucet she wanted. It was 600$ at Piersons. She was going to the Bay Area and bought it for about 80$. It was worth the gas and the time to drive down there. I love this place and think the county is messed up terribly when they rubberstamp a horrible gravel mining operation that will impact and drive people from their homes, but put every obstacle in the way of needed business that will benefit average folks.