The City Council got it right


By Norm Winick


Despite an outpouring of public sentiment and emotional pleas, the Galesburg City Council let reason prevail and took two actions Monday which are ultimately for the civic good.

Allowing beer and wine sales at the cityŐs public golf course isnŐt really going to make much difference. The course might be a little more profitable. There might be a few more tournaments. The arguments against it were all incredibly naive. Sure, there are kids who play golf. They play at all the other courses in the county, too, and every other one of them sells beer. There is no evidence that any of them foster underage drinking or that itŐs been a problem in any way.

ThereŐs also no valid reason to prohibit beer at private functions at the Lake Storey Pavilion or at adult softball games. Prohibition didnŐt work in the 1930s and it isnŐt working now.

But the major vote at MondayŐs meeting was the unanimous one to annex in the land at Route 34 and Seminary Street for a retail development.

While there were some who thought that the comprehensive planŐs identification of that area for future ŇcommercialÓ development obviously meant something other that a Wal-Mart Supercenter or a MenardŐs, the proposed use is probably the best we could hope for on that potentially valuable property.

We donŐt need more housing or office space at this time and a warehouse or other industrial development would generate much more and heavier traffic.

The developer has not asked the city for any incentives and council members arenŐt offering any. ThatŐs also the correct attitude. While I have no problem with competition, I think that the playing field should be level. There should be no tax breaks for anyone that are not available to everyone.

The arguments against the development were several. It will increase traffic. Yes, it will. The roads will be widened and signalled at the developerŐs expense. There is no evidence that the traffic cannot be adequately handled by the planned improvements.

It will look ugly. ThatŐs debatable. Is it uglier than cornfield stubble in the fall? Is it uglier than a mega hog farm or a metal warehouse building? It canŐt be any uglier than the Illinois Power substation and high tension lines that are there now.

I thought IŐd be living adjacent to an empty lot forever. YouŐre a fool. Anyone who expects an empty lot or farmland in town to remain that way is deceiving themselves — just like any business that never expects to face a competitor. We are a capitalistic society. We believe in free enterprise. Land will be developed to the use that generates the most income for the owner. Expect it.

We donŐt need more retail stores. ThatŐs bunk. Retailers in Peoria and the Quad Cities have been getting fat off the money spent by Galesburgers in their towns. The lost sales tax revenue to the city is called Ňleakage.Ó ItŐs in the tens of millions of dollars. Galesburgers spend millions on online and mail order purchases too. ThatŐs even more sales tax money lost to the city. Just ask anyone whoŐs wearing Old Navy clothes or riding a new bicycle or driving a Saturn or has bought a book from Amazon or Barnes & Noble. If new retailers here could capture some of that money, we all benefit. There are dozens of businesses and restaurants that could be very successful here and maybe keep some of that money in town. Less driving out of town would also mean less money spent on expensive gas.

TheyŐre just minimum wage jobs. That one has some merit — but not too  much. They will be minimum wage jobs in our current condition. Fortunately, Illinois has raised it to $6.50 an hour. But if the powers that be ever have some success bringing in some new industrial employers, wages will be driven up. There are many places in the country where retail workers make much more than minimum wage. We can hope we will become one of them. In the meantime, any job is still better than no job.

Other businesses will close. Maybe, maybe not. A good businessperson knows or learns how to compete. You canŐt do it with price against a Wal-Mart or MenardŐs. But you can do it with service. ItŐs the customers who will make that choice. If they go to the new stores, existing businesses could suffer. If the existing businesses offer products not available at Wal-Mart or the service that goes along with it (and I donŐt mean repair service, I mean informed sales help and installation or usage advice) they will succeed.

Wal-Mart is sleazy. No argument from me. I donŐt like how big they are, how they bully their suppliers, how they import so many of their goods, and especially their attitude toward their workers who want to organize. I very rarely shop there. I donŐt expect IŐll shop at the new one either. ThatŐs my choice. On the plus side, Wal-Mart does bring down prices in a community. KewaneeŐs gasoline prices are always 10–20˘ a gallon less than ours thanks to Wal-Mart.

The Mall is already suffering. Yes, it is. It has been suffering for years. As Mayor Gary Smith has said, the era of the enclosed malls has passed. The owners need to rethink their property. Maybe they should tear down the common areas and open it up to traffic and pedestrians as many other enclosed malls have done. Maybe they should think of making it an outlet mall. ThatŐs their problem and their decision. Maybe this will spur them into action.

We already have plenty of empty retail buildings. Where are they? There are hardly any empty stores downtown. Every developer who has built new retail space on Henderson Street has quickly rented it. There are some big, empty stores and there are some greedy landlords who wonŐt make them available at a fair price. Why should we reward them? If retailers are willing to rent new space built to their specifications, they should be able to.

This new retail development is no panacea but it is not to be feared either. There will be some good construction jobs for several years. There will be more choices for shoppers and diners. Maybe that improvement in our quality of life might help push some manufacturing firm over the line and decide to locate here. Nothing else seems to be working.