Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Property Ownership = Power: A Punk Rock Realty Lesson

Never forget: property ownership is power in America. The STORE CLOSING banner hanging outside my local Dollar General store provided yet another reminder of that particular lesson...if I needed one.

At first, I presumed this latest sour development had something to do with the continuing creeping yuppification of our town. 
After all, this Dollar General store sits across the street from a CVS pharmacy that's springing up as I write. That project that aroused quite a bit of local opposition, since it's situated in a largely residential neighborhood. But that's not the main reason, as a cashier -- soon to join the ranks of the unemployed -- assured me.

"Then what's going on?" I asked. "There's people coming through here almost every day, so I can't imagine that this store isn't profitable..."

"Oh, it is," the cashier responded. "We're always really busy. The landlord saw how much business we're getting, and decided that we could pay a little bit more." She paused for the punchline. "But the company doesn't want to pay it."

"So what happens now?" I asked.

"They might build another store here..." She finished ringing up my bottle of dishwashing liquid and pair of two-liter diet pops.  "This town can definitely support one."

"Good luck to you, then," I responded. "We'll just have to wait and see, I guess..."

"Yeah, I guess."

Another reminder comes from my current reading of 924 Gilman (see the last post). Tucked away in this sprawling 400-page tome is a Punk Planet article ("924 No More?": May/June 1999) that focuses on how gentrification has hurt the Bay Area punk scene. One of its sources is an October 1998 San Francisco Bay Area Guardian article ("The Economic Cleansing of San Francisco"), which quotes the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment as rising from $845 to $1,200, or 56 percent, over a four-year period.

Based on that statistic, a person earning $6 an hour paying the standard one-third for rent would have to work 143 hours a week to afford the median rent! I'd hate to imagine how that figure looks nowadays. The article further cites a tenants' union survey which shows that, among people who changed addresses in the past year, half left the city entirely.

Granted, these are 20-year-old statistics, but the point hasn't really changed, since the whole problem has grown exponentially worse. After all, rent is the reason why CBGB -- for all its cultural significance -- disappeared, once the disputes with its landlord (Bowery Residents' Committee), proved too toxic to overcome. (For an update, see the New York Times link below on promises of a revival...which will apparently focus on finding a building to buy: "We don't want to be a tenant. We don't want to be a victim of what happened before.")

These issues matter, for reasons that often escape people who don't pay attention, until it's too way late...take it away, Punk Planet: "The face of the region is culturally strip-mined. Rent control laws, once some of the strongest in the country, have been gutted. Artists, the poor, young activists and people of color are being displaced as the white-collar cyber-yuppies sweep in like a plague of locusts (emphasis mine)." And so it goes...wash, rinse, repeat.

You've Been Gentrified, OK? 
Now Pack Up Your Shit
And Leave.

I got another reminder of the "property ownership=power" equation several years ago, when a venue I'd played in the past several times shut down. Like many small businesses, things had gotten off to a fast start. The first couple bills I'd played, i counted roughly 40-50 people on a Friday or Saturday night.

The next couple of times, the audiences dropped off to around 30 people (including the performers and their friends). The last couple times, we had the proverbial "five people and a dog" to witness our efforts. It was painful, and you didn't need a detective to see the end coming. Sadder still, of course, was the loss of a sympathetic home for offbeat acts -- avante-garde, folk-punk, garage -- that would never get a foothold otherwise.

One of my strongest memories is the guy whose set consisted of Gameboy devices that he manipulated back and forth, to create truly otherworldly sounds...if you combined Joe Meek's EP, I Hear A New World, with video game noises run through a concrete mixer, this is what you'd get. Whether I dug all of it is beside the point...but it sure beats sitting through a generic cover band any day.

Once the venue closed, I casually inquired about the rent. I was curious how much money the owner had spent keeping his dream afloat. It's a small town, right? I figure. How much can it really cost?  Then came the sticker shock. "It's $850 per month," the agent told me. I practically dropped the phone receiver.

Still Here? 
OK...Start Working Your 
Five Part-Time Jobs 
To Pay Off The Landlord.

For those who think that gentrification is purely an urban phenomenon, get a reality check -- it's probably happening right around the corner...and may be way too late to confront by the time you finally notice it. We need to explore ways of controlling our destiny -- whether it's micro-lending, pooling the few resources we do have, or forming a punk rock realty company to pursue our best interests. None of these things will be easy or convenient, obviously.

However, unless we put our own skin in the game -- and get involved, somehow, at a basic economic level -- the hustle will accelerate at a faster clip, but nothing will change. I got another reminder of this concept when I interviewed a local music store owner, who's operated since the mid- or late '60s. These days, that's a lifetime in retail.

During our interview, he paused  to point out an antique shop across the street. He mentioned that the owner had been having a hard time, because her monthly nut is so crushing.

"How much are they asking her to pay?" I inquired.  "Last I heard, she's paying $2,500 per month." He paused to deliver the punchline.  "All I can say is, I'm glad that I bought this building...otherwise, I'd have been out of here a long time ago."  And so it goes -- wash, rinse, repeat. --The Reckoner

Links To Go (Click Before Your Rent Skyrockets!):

1 comment:

  1. as far as San Francisco goes, it's been completely ruined. Most of those people who live there, the hippies, the art crowd, all the gay population,anybody retired on a fixed income, or anybody working class, they have all left it. In fact, they even left the whole state. They just about all of moved to my state, Oregon, and now they've ruined it. Here also. Everybody in Los Angeles to moved here, plus people from back Eastandin San Diego. I wish they'd all go home! I moved back to my hometown, because it was small and wet and rainy. But now it's become CALIFORNIA. So it's ruined. This is going to happen more and more. People will go as far away from civilization, as they can, including all the southern states that are very primitive and poor; they will move there anyhow.Tennessee, Missouri, Oklahoma, Mississippi, you name it. Everybody will be moving there. Don't say Iowa, that's already been ruined. – – Just to get away from gentrification or modern life.