Editorial: Dollars should follow values

The Fair Trader quietly closed its doors a couple of weekends ago, and for the most compelling of reasons — not enough customers. Amidst the clamor in the neighborhood around the proposed McMobil high-rise and the ongoing conversation about Harper Court and its value to the retail scene in Hyde Park, the loss of this small and important business is a reminder that managing change in our neighborhood is not an academic exercise.

While we argue over the ethics of big-box retail and the steady creep of the hand of the University of Chicago into more and more of the neighborhood, the closure of The Fair Trader suggests we are leaving the small businesses we love — at least in theory — in the lurch.

Co-owner Cindy Pardo is a woman who knows money. She has been instrumental in capital campaigns for First Unitarian Church, and just one conversation with her about business in Hyde Park will let you know she has a clear-sighted perspective on our neighborhood’s needs. (For example, she has suggested a trolley for visitors to our annual festivals on 53rd Street that would take them to other retail destinations in the neighborhood. That suggestion has sadly fallen on deaf ears.)

Pardo is equally clear-eyed about the state of our planet, and she brought to Hyde Park a concept that is as simple as it is revolutionary — a store that only purveys goods produced under conditions that empower workers. Whether it’s a hand-crafted basket from Ghana or a one-of-a-kind piece of art from all corners of the globe, the Fair Trader was a place you could spend your money with a clear conscience. How many of the new businesses in Harper Court will you be able to say that about?

So what went wrong? Simply put, we are not spending our dollars where our values are — or where we say they are.

We proclaim a love for small, locally-owned businesses. We chat over lattes about our concern for the planet. A local businesswoman opens a shop that speaks to both of these concerns. We don’t patronize it. The store closes, and we go back to our conversations about the neighborhood we claim we want.

If you’re driving up to Roosevelt Road to do your shopping, instead of visiting one of our local grocers, you’re hurting our community. If you keep meaning to stop in to Freehling Pot and Pan, 1365 E. 53rd St., or Supreme Jewelers, 1515 E. 53rd St. — or our many other tried-and-true local businesses – but never get around to it, clicking away at Amazon instead, there is a real consequence to your choices that will affect you directly. If you’re not buying books in our many local bookstores — well, you know what we think about buying reading material locally.

Don’t write off Pardo — or The Fair Trader — yet. We’re sure she’ll find a way to reintroduce this opportunity to our neighborhood, because she knows it’s the right thing to do, and she’s not easily dissuaded. When she does, will we be ready?

Why is that so high?

Chicago Plan Commissioner George Migala posed a simple question to Mesa Development prior to casting the lone dissenting vote last Thursday when the commission approved Vue53, the 13-story high-rise planned for 53rd Street across from Nichols Park:

Why so high?

We’ve been wondering the same thing, and we applaud his courage in letting common sense guide his vote. It’s an all-too-rare sight in the halls of 121 N. LaSalle St.

Ald. Will Burns (4th), Mesa Development and the University of Chicago all seem bent on pushing this project through at any cost, but we wonder if they realize the risk of ignoring this simple question: Severing lines of communication with the community.