By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Not surprisingly, Federated officials directed all inquiries to a local black-owned public-relations firm that it hired three years ago after enduring criticism over the possible shutdown of the Crenshaw Macy’s at that time. Kim L. Hunter, of Lagrant Communications, gamely insisted that the Macy’s closure — which he said he had no prior notice of — was purely a business decision, and that the cash grants, in turn, were motivated by nothing more than altruism. As for Macy’s failure in Crenshaw, Hunter blames chronic mall mismanagement and shifting demographics as contributing factors to the poor sales performance.
But in a real sense, the altered dem-ographics have more to do with black middle-class shoppers — still living in Crenshaw — who shifted their dollars to the Westside Pavilion, for example, because it had a better Macy’s.
Given that Macy’s will suffer little commercial consequence from its Crenshaw desertion, it’s somewhat puzzling that the retailer bothered to shield itself from criticism at all.
Macy’s didn’t have to buy silence from blacks, because, noted one activist, they have been silent a long time anyway. Eighth District Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas may have voiced his disapproval, but "what happened to all those other black elected officials when Macy’s closed — Kevin Murray, Diane Watson, Nate Holden? Where were they?" demanded the activist, who asked not to be named for this story. (Apparently, even these stilled voices retain too much power over their own to risk offending.)
And yet, how is the black community — or the progressive community at large — supposed to act in this post–civil rights era, in which economic inequality has become the civil rights struggle of the ’90s? How do underserved communities ensure that the private sector does the right thing? It’s no longer a matter of isolating the racist for public exposure or conducting a sit-in at a lunch counter; protests and moral indignation — even if such things were still commonplace — don’t cut it alone. The private sector must be cultivated even while it is criticized. Activists want to see major retailers like Macy’s invest in minority areas that desperately need the jobs and services — and where good capitalists can and do make money despite all preconceptions to the contrary.
In this instance, it wasn’t just Macy’s that stood by and did too little.
"Everybody saw that the merchandise was raggedy at Macy’s," said the activist. "Everybody drove by it, but we didn’t do anything. We were waiting for the system to save us. And as we waited, everything died.
"This whole event is an object lesson in how we have to monitor political and social and economic activity in our neighborhoods and hold all pertinent parties accountable. We’re not fighting for our future. We haven’t been for 30 years."
Nor will mounting a post–civil rights strategy in black L.A. get any easier as black residents continue to disperse from traditional strongholds. The Macy’s debacle, at least, rekindled a fighting spirit among black organizations, who’ve voiced a rare solidarity.
What all of this amounts to may be tested sooner than anyone wants. Robinsons-May, another original Crenshaw mall tenant, is also rumored to be considering exit strategies. Mall official Joe Paggi said he’s determined to have a contingency plan ready and not be caught by surprise next time. Local leaders had better be proactive too: The clamor of a thousand community groups in the aftermath of a business closing down is not likely to bring it back.