Here in San Rafael, our SallyAnn store (Salvation Army, as it is known to those of very modest means) is conveniently located next to our Whole Paycheck (Whole Foods, as many call it). But I doubt there are many who, like me, shop at both stores. I get my sweatshirts at the SallyAnn and my salmon at Whole Paycheck. My fellow SallyAnn shoppers include many recent immigrant families, some superannuated hippies, some with not so many teeth, obese moms with unruly kids, a few oddballs flipping through the racks seem demented, and there are always guys waiting in front smoking. If someone lit a smoke amongst the salad eaters at the tables in front of the Whole Paycheck they’d probably call the cops. WPs are enlightened beings, thin and healthy & wealthy, and even possibly wiser. The WP lot is filled with new hybrids, SUVs, Lexus, Infinitis, SmartCars. The SallyAnn lot next door is filled with junkers, trash-filled vans with side doors that don’t close all the way, pickups with rain soaked carpet and old furniture in the back.
Two worlds, side by side, with little in common beyond sharing a suburban city block. The Sals do the yard work for the WPs. I wouldn’t be surprised if the WPs live a lot longer. Sals might spend up to a hundred dollars a week on lottery tickets, because it gives them hope. The WPs have never bought a lottery ticket -- they don’t need hope, they’ve got it all and they’re living the California dream. Sal kids are embarrassed to be seen with their mom buying these second-hand clothes. WP moms get their kids clothes at Macys and Nordstroms.
San Rafael is a fairly prosperous community (median family income $85,000), but also has a large poorer, mostly Latino population, living out of sight in a mile of densely populated small apartments between the canal and a freeway. There are people in our town of 50,000 who have never seen this neighborhood. It has a reputation for being dangerous, although it is not. During the real estate boom quite a few of the apartments were converted into inexpensive condos. Now many of these condos are being lost to foreclosure because the kinds of jobs these people do, such as construction labor, gardening, child care and house cleaning, have become scarce. Clusters of day laborers, mostly small men, many likely Indians from Southern Mexico or Guatamala, wait on corners and along streets in a nearby commercial district. I have never seen so many of them. When I’m driving my old pickup they wave hopefully as I pass.
The SallyAnns, who are seldom doing well, even during a good economy, are now facing much harder times. So the SallyAnn is always busy, because growing kids must have clothes. And the Whole Paycheck has also never been busier. WP just spent 4.5 million buying houses to tear down so they could enlarge their parking lot. The WP customers do not seem to be hurting at all - even the new lot is always full, and everyone seems to have new cars.
Am I seeing two worlds that are growing farther apart? Are the SallyAnns getting poorer while the WPs are getting richer? On one corner someone is paying five bucks for a pound of peaches, on the other someone else is paying five bucks for their winter coat. I’ll bet they’ve never even been in each other’s stores!
Causes Michael Lipsey Supports
Marin Agricultural Land Trust, Nature Conservancy