A Dollar and a Dream
by Mayor Michael Tubbs
April 12, 2018
The grand opening of a new Family Dollar Store in south Stockton stands as one of the proudest moments I have experienced as Mayor. Passersbys not familiar with our story just see another chain store, but for those of us that started this journey many years ago - we know the pain, sweat and tears that brought us to this new day.
Before being Mayor, I was a new and young council member. At the time, I represented one of the most challenging areas of Stockton. This district covered the southern end of town - an area long forgotten by a city that grew northward. The south area was once a shining example of the best of Stockton, but years of neglect took its toll. The area slowly transformed from a bustling community filled with commerce to empty lots of dried grass, rundown buildings and deteriorating housing.
South Stockton is home to one third of the cities 300,000 citizens. If you are black or brown, you’re more likely to call this side of town home. Employment rates, educational attainment and income are all lower here compared to the rest of the city. A grand jury report found that “south Stockton has been neglected and underserved by city government for many years.”
As a 22 year old councilmember, the challenges facing the district I was elected to represent were daunting. You learn quickly that getting elected is easier than governing. The city had truly left this community behind. Yet, it would be that very community, long neglected by city leaders, that would give me the strength to believe that change was possible. They tried to bury us but they didn't know we were seeds.
Despite the challenges ahead, every journey must start somewhere. For us, that journey started in one of the most crime filled areas of the district, at Airport way and Ninth street. This location was home to a notorious liquor store called New Grand Save Market.
It seems that every struggling community has a New Grand Save Market. This is the type of place that is a magnet for drug dealing, violence, robberies and burglaries. In a 402 day period, police were called to the area 191 times.
Neighbors told stories of ducking on the floor to avoid bullets. This went on for decades. Until finally, the community had enough.
Community members came out strongly against
the New Grand Save Market
The change started with that grand jury report I mentioned earlier. Finally, someone said what everyone already knew; for years, South Stockton was getting the raw end of the deal. Together we formed a coalition, which included government leaders, the city attorney’s office, law enforcement, and local area non-profits such as Stocktonians Taking Action to Neutralize Drugs (Stand) and Reinvent South Stockton. Most importantly, the coalition activated members of the community ready to fight against a liquor store that had become a symbol for everything that was wrong with south Stockton. To move forward, the New Grand Save Market needed to close down.
The grand jury report had found that in years past city code enforcement was inadequately staffed to deal with the problems of south Stockton. Now, with the community focused and determined, resources were provided to make sure that code violations did not go unpunished. The store was cited for some of the worst violations a public facility could have. Unwilling or unable to leave the front of the store to use the bathroom, workers would urinate in buckets behind the front counter. This was just one of many problems and violations found at the market.
The police made routine patrols of the area helping to deter crime. However, it was the community that made the difference. Together, members of this south Stockton community showed up at town hall meetings and at city council sessions to protest the issues in and around the liquor store. Over time these community members grew in numbers from 30, to 70 and more. When a call was made for community feedback, over 200 citizens responded.
The store finally closed its doors, but not without a fight and a court order. To close the doors of New Grand Save Market and open the doors to a better future was truly a community effort. It wasn't easy, but now this area once plagued by violence and hopelessness has new life. Down the street from the market is a park that is now used by the community, where before it was unsafe for kids to play in. Across the street from what used to be New Grand Save, now sits a credit union where the community can cash checks without paying expensive fees. And just behind the park is a community health clinic.
There’s a quote from one of my favorite rappers J Cole, on my office wall at city hall, “Anything is possible, you gotta dream like you never seen obstacles.” It is amazing what can happen when you empower people. A community that once hid behind gates and locked doors, took a leap of faith, stepping out from behind the fears that held them back for so many years to enjoy the bonds that most neighborhoods take for granted.
In the early days, as a newly elected council member, we started to use the term “reinvent Stockton.” We use that term now to describe the change that is happening throughout the entire city, from reinventing our approach to violent gun crime, to partnering with new businesses such as the Sacramento Kings, to opening a gym where the community sponsorships pay for youth memberships - we are reinventing new solutions to old problems. The founding of all this change started right at New Grand Save Market, where today, now stands a Dollar General Store. Today the community continues to move in the right direction as evidence by two colors – Red and Green. Red marks the areas on a city where crime is significantly higher and green shows areas where crime is lower. Today, the south area, around what used to be New Grand Save Market has gone from red to green.
If you find yourself driving past Airport way and you see the Family Dollar store, take a moment to think of the many people that fought to take back their community. Today, as Mayor of Stockton, I take with me the lessons we learned and the pride I felt seeing a community work towards a better future. Seeing the change at Airport way and Ninth streets, is what reinventing Stockton is all about.