Left Justified: Watch out, Seventh Street, RUM is on the move

Rockford Urban Ministries (for whichI work) has been on Seventh Street since 1991. We helped Zion Development purchase a former pornographic bookstore here in the 600 block, and moved our offices in. We still get visitors looking for the former tenant.

A consortium of friends offered to buy this Queen Anne-style building (the only one left of about five or six that stretched up Seventh Street back in the 1890s). A consortium of buyers organized by MidTown Development Director Bill Mohr outbid them. That’s OK, they’re good folks and will lovingly restore this building (we hope).

But RUM wanted to move, so my friends purchased what once was the worst liquor store on Seventh Street, the former Adens Liquor at 201. The price was high, but the storefront is beautiful, and could be considered the “gateway” to the area.

Well, the new space (to be leased to RUM sometime soon) has stirred controversy. Bill Mohr, our new landlord at 623, is passing a petition complaining of the move to 201. They are concerned about our future neighbor, the Total Health Awareness Team (THAT). One problem with their problem: THAT ain’t us!

THAT Place is an excellent harm reduction program that has been successfully operating here on Seventh Street since mid-1990s. THAT has its own board of directors, its own funding sources and staff. If you drive down Seventh Street, you would be hard pressed to find them, because they are so discreet. RUM supports them in their work, and welcomes them as neighbors, but THAT ain’t us.

Rockford Ald. Jeff Holt (who represents this ward) said he does not want us to advertise “come get condoms and clean needles” at the gateway. Ouch. Really, THAT Place will discretely lease the back quarter of the building, have their own office, and will be doing most of their work as outreach in the community. Where it really is needed.

Rockford Urban Ministries will be leasing the front office space at 201 Seventh St. We are planning to open the best fair-trade store in the Midwest. This storefront will feature beautiful items made here and abroad, all fairly traded and monies going to good causes. The store will be similar to Sonrisa in Rockton, Ten Thousand Villages in Bloomington and Plowshares in Waukesha, Wis.

A not-for-profit board is organizing now. The gift shop will be lovely and upscale and take up all of the window space. There is no more “Peace Store,” and the new business has yet no name (we are holding a contest to name the store—any suggestions?).

Fair trade means the items came from cooperative workplaces where employees receive decent wages and the working conditions don’t kill anyone. Some of the fair trade organizations: Ten Thousand Villages (a Mennonite trader), SERRV (a Brethren mission outreach), and Pueblo to People, made up of peace activists.

Our neighbor to the south, Phoenix Traders, 215 Seventh St., is a fair-trade store, and we will be hosting many events together to get you to visit this atypical shopping mecca. Every beautiful sales item comes with a story: a statue made in India by a workers’ collective, a mission shawl from Kenya, trade jewelry from Vietnam with the artisans’ pictures.

And we’ll host local artists. With 2,200 square feet, we need help filling the space. But with the bad publicity (I wish our alderman had spoken to us before), we’ve lost some free capital. Gentle folk who’ve offered to help are now shying away.

This is what we believe God is calling us to do. We are in the initial phase of planning and seek your input, prayers, and support. Please contact your aldermen and tell them to let RUM plan for the building, and to offer assistance instead of brickbats.

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

From the Aug. 10-16, 2005, issue

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