Left Justified: Fairness for Fair Trade

After two months, I’m still waiting for a permit to construct our new Fair Trade store at 201 7th St. At first I thought the delay was due to our neighbors, the Total Health Awareness Team; THAT reduces the harm that prostitutes and IV drug users do to themselves. The fear is they’ll attract prostitutes and druggies to Seventh Street (as if there’s none here now).

The truth is, THAT tells people, “If you want our services, do your business elsewhere.” THAT has saved more lives and talked more people into recovery than almost any other program of its kind. We welcome THAT as a neighbor.

So maybe no permits because of me. My Rockford Urban Ministries’ office at 623 7th St. (site of the former pornographic bookstore) is cluttered, and the Peace Store is similar to a “church thrift shop.” I’ve opposed other people’s development: urban sprawl and a Rockford casino. Pay-back time?

The director of Mid-Town Council and I disagree on a lot of issues, but I’m assured that delay happens to lots of businesses that want to relocate in old buildings. The problem appears to be our Building and Community Development departments.

Big developers can expedite their permits, and often do, by paying more money. But the city doesn’t hire more staff nor pay overtime. They just move the “expedited” permit applications before everyone else.

Permits are expensive, at least to me—$3,000 to $6,000 for an average-size building. That’s big bucks, but minuscule for a million-dollar project. For nonprofits and small businesses it’s daunting. I can see why few churches do community development. The City now says they’re swamped with work and can’t help us yet.

Delay for our Fair Trade store hurts us doubly. We need to sell during the greatest shopping season of the year: Christmas. Especially the items that we offer: Christian mission arts and crafts from around the world. Our store will acquire American artisans from the Midwest as well.

Fair Trade items come through Mennonite, Brethren and United Methodists who support family-owned and cooperative arts and crafts in Third World countries. Most of the money will go to the producer. Some of you support fair-traded coffee. The small farmer or cooperative will not use pesticides or herbicides and won’t cut down the forest for their product.

You are welcome to preview our space at 201 Seventh St. (the former Aden Liquor) on Monday, Oct. 10, 7:30 p.m. Special guest will be Susanne Donoghue, founder and manager of a fair-trade store in Evanston. She’ll bring items that will be for sale. Susanne’s devoted her life to promoting fair trade. Ten Thousand Villages, Evanston, has three full-time workers, 70 volunteers, and averages annual sales of $650,000 (Rockford can do as well, if we ever get a building permit).

What are the fears of having a fair-trade store in Rockford? Well, we could, like most businesses, try to exploit the neighborhood in which it’s sitting. The busiest customer is the cigarette and pop stand across from the Vietnamese restaurant. Maybe we could sell fair-traded tobacco, organically grown and without the stupefying array of added chemicals. As a reformed smoker, one puff would send me reeling (after seven years of smoke-free existence, I still crave and could inhale a whole pack in one sitting). Or maybe we could sell lingerie that is recycled! Second-hand nighties?! Or how about organic edible underclothing? Seriously, though, I can’t think of any reason a fair-trade store would evoke such opposition. I’ve asked our new, young mayor, and he just shrugs his shoulders.

So join us Monday, Oct. 10. The coffee is delicious, fair traded, organic and shade grown. There’ll be a wide variety at the fair trade store, 201 7th St.—if we ever get a permit. Thanks to the city and Mid-Town District Czar, we’ll be delayed, maybe until Thanksgiving, unless they want to screw us even more. Thank God, I don’t have to quit my job, but I’d like to see Fair Trade open before 2006.

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

From the Oct. 5-11, 2005, issue

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