8/20/08

The Kenosha Families

Yesterday, as Jenn and I walked with the kids to a local coffee shop, we passed by the Downtown Toy Store. It's recently been upgraded and moved to a close new location, with plans to build an ice cream parlor next door and a children's museum in the floors above it--all contained within the giant old Orpheum movie palace. Jenn mentioned that Downtown Toy Store was not a very original name, but it is, officially, the Heim's Downtown Toy Story.

The Heims are a local family, at least one member of which is closely associated with the Lakeside Players and their home at the Rhode Theater. I know another local family owns the coffee shop we visited, and that they were involved with the construction of the massive condo building across the street from ours. Some of these things are good and beneficial, while others seem a bit gratuitous.

Al Pacino as Michael CorleoneBut it got me thinking about small communities, or even neighborhoods within larger cities, and the historic influence of powerful families--not necessarily the corruption and violence that most people think of with regard to gangsters. These long-established families have a vested interest in keeping the community afloat and seeing it prosper. If the Kenosha downtown fails, families like the Heims lose their livelihoods and their influence. So it makes sense when they reinvest locally.

Compare this to conglomerate corporations that strip communities of their self-starting impulses and locally generated income. Would the dudes at Wal-Mart ever think to finance a children's museum in a mostly-abandoned building in downtown Kenosha? Never. But that place for children and families will serve this community far better than another big box store.

(A replacement Target is being built two miles from our current, perfectly good Target. What's going to happen to the old one? Another abandoned building, but this time the blight will be in the suburbs.)

Robert DeNiro as young Vito CorleoneThis got me reconsidering old world gangs and family-style mobsters. I'm not going so far as to romanticize them, although I do feel compelled to post pictures of young Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro. But I can certainly see how the local populace, especially within tightly-knit immigrant communities beset by city corruption and prejudice, would've overlooked a bit of graft in exchange for stability, prosperity, and prestige.

Today, on the receiving end of their vision and willingness to take risk--because these revitalization efforts are certainly not without risk--I'm all for these local families making a go at rescuing our town.

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