Monday, July 30, 2007

Lubbock retail culture and demographics

[cross-posted from]

Coffeeshop of the local yuppie (Texas-owned) grocery chain.

Lubbock's demographic is changing, despite the know-nothing head-in-the-sand "we're-still-a-small-town" public postures and policies of its governing bodies (especially City Council, and to a lesser extent the mayor's office). They are still beholden to a Club for Growth ranching/mineral rights/real-estate development model, and can't get their brains around the fact that both the profile of the city's population, and the places the city needs to go in order to survive in a very different economic climate, are both very different than those described above.

I once wrote a painstaking report for a City arts advisory board, based upon Richard Florida's "Creative Class" model--essentially, arguing that good benchmarks for the economic viability of a city in the Information Age have to do not with development, the construction of stadia, or a rise in the cost of living, but rather with the receptivity of a community to those arts-aware, typically young, college-educated, patent-holding, information-processing, disposable-income-spending persons who make the street / neighborhood / loft / arts culture of Austin, San Fran, Ann Arbor, Cambridge, Amherst, Oxford, and other "hippie arts towns" both possible and lucrative.

These bozos want Austin's "Sixth Street" culture (really, now, just a dump for drunken frat kids and aggressive panhandlers) but they don't want to create a welcome to the demographic that makes arts culture possible. Florida argues that college degrees-per-thousand, patents-per-thousand, and even presence/absence of a gay community, are all better indicators of the human and creative resources that make for economically-viable, livable 21st century cities, of both small-, medium-, and large-population size. [By the way, I had to demand my name be removed from the report, because the night before it was to be presented to the City Council, the committee chair called me and said "I had to edit your report--I took out all the references to the gays"; she claimed that the Council would instantly discard the report if such references were included. Flabbergasted, I told her to take my name off the report, and the Council discarded it anyway. I later resigned from the committee when in the monthly meeting the Chair categorically denied that she'd ever had that conversation with me.]

Our old friend Ben Bagby, probably the greatest solo performer of medieval music of the past century, gave us a thumbnail version of the same thing, when we were agonizing over whether to move to Lubbock in 2000. Ben, who's American-born but has lived in Europe (Cologne and Paris) ever since the '70s. He said to Dharmonia, "Look for a gay community. If they're visible, then the place will have an arts scene, decent restaurants, music or theatre, clubs--it'll be basically livable." It was good advice (though Lubbock's LGBTS scene is pretty much underground and persecuted, except for the relatively safe haven of the campus).

Anyway, this is the local yuppie/progressive grocery chain. Family-owned, Christian-identified, but "good Christians" the way that some Texans can be: e.g., they actually fuckin' put into practice the idea of "doing good in the world." They employ a lot of kids and retired folks, but there are always enough staff, the staff most always seem happy to be there, they have a clear holiday policy, closing on certain days specifically so that their staff can spend time with family, and so on.

When this place opened in 2001, Dharmonia, who was not yet working on campus, called me from the store on opening day, saying "You gotta get down here! They have a deli! And a salad bar! And a natural-foods section!" Even as recently as 7 years ago, those were all Major Developments, and indicative of this business's awareness, anyway, that the demographic was shifting: from a ranching, development, small-town demographic, to an Information Age demographic. And everything from their stock choices, to the combination of "Texas comfort foods" (fried chicken, biscuits-and-gravy, string beans with fried onions) and "healthy foods" (sushi, salads, blackened tofu) at the deli, to the very good artisan coffee in the coffeeshop, to the numerous family and domestic-skills events they offer free, reflects their awareness of the changing demographic.

This place is also the scene of the infamous Bob Knight/David Smith salad-throwing incident, that cost Smith his (spurious) credibility, demonstrated Knight's instantaneous chokehold on the University's Board of Regents, and added another chapter to the saga of administratively-enabled Knight tantrums.

Lubbock will never have a Whole Foods (another Austin-based corporation) until they pry loose the draconian "dry-county" liquor laws from the clutches of the restaurateurs and fundamentalist Christians, and re-written the laws so that WF can include the organic wines and beers that are part of their corporate model. But in the meantime, this ain't bad.

Actually a good place for lunch meetings: the food is quite varied, fresh, and cheap; coffee is excellent; there's easy and proximate parking (an essential part of any West Texas business meeting), and there' s almost never a wait.

And, in the meantime, the free wireless in the coffeeshop is a nice perk.

Playing when published: NRBQ, "Get Rhythm"

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