Left Justified: A new home for RUM

As I said in last week’s column, Rockford Urban Ministries (RUM) is moving up Seventh Street to take over a former liquor store at First Avenue. This has caused consternation among some big-time investors in the neighborhood (yes, there are big time investors on Seventh Street). It seems church groups and/or nonprofits have no business getting involved in the business of community development.

Rockford Urban Ministries (for which I work) has not yet signed a lease agreement with the new landlord of 201 Seventh St., but we’ve already come under attack from the President of the Mid-Town District. We’re accused of planning to open a “thrift store.” I tried to answer it last week in this column. Our plans are to open an upscale gift shop selling fair-trade items acquired through mission and peace groups from around the world. But these big-time, multi-million-dollar investors don’t seem to care. We aren’t good enough to dwell in the “gateway” of Seventh Street (RUM’s been inhabiting a small space in the 600 block since 1991).

I can understand the concern. Maybe they think we’ll sell booze in a bag, or open a lingerie shop. Or maybe our store will not attract the high-end crowd that is crowding Seventh Street already, but one would think a new business would get the benefit of any doubts, a pat on the back, or at least a chance to open and flop on its own.

Don’t get me wrong, most people have been very kind. In fact, donations are increasing exponentially to the nasty things being said about us. But it still doesn’t feel welcoming.

Another concern deals with the drug counseling group THAT Place. They will be our neighbors to the south, and if there had been no brouhaha, no one would have noticed them moving next to our store. So, instead of celebrating a new business here on Seventh Street, the president and CEO of Mid-Town is causing frustration.

We are sweeping up the debris left by the former occupant, one of the largest package liquor stores in the area. One of the most distinguished architects in the city, Dick Hynes, is designing the storefront. RUM has received offers of help from architect Rob Belles as well as others. We hope to have the plans ready and work started within the month, move in the end of September, and open the store the beginning of October—just in time for the holiday shopping season.

If you would like to donate any of the following items, Rockford Urban Ministries can give you a tax receipt: a 10-foot ladder; a floor polisher; a new, fancy flush toilet; tiles for the bathroom floor; a large, free-standing mirror; bathroom cabinets; a sink with fancy faucets; room dividers; a professional dishwashing machine; some track lighting; easels for holding fine paintings; fancy shelving; a cash register; a telephone with answering machine; floor mats; a mini safe; and an alarm system. RUM will take cash, too.

Rockford Urban Ministries will be hosting a “Used Art Sale,” and we can use your fine art, statues and quality textiles and craft items. So far, suggestions for the name of the store include: “One World/Fair Trade Shop”; “Save the World Sales Mart”; “The No Sweat Shop”; “Terra Madre” as well as keeping “The Peace Store.” And finally, we have received enough donations that we can hire a store manager at least until January. Send a written résumé as soon as possible to 623 Seventh St.

I never realized that a move could engender so much controversy, but it seems our supporters are increasing, and the brickbats are decreasing. Maybe people will let us move in and give us a chance before they complain about what we are going to do. Or is that how Rockford works, anyway?

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

From the August 17-23, 2005, issue

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