David Mekarski, the village administrator for the south Chicago suburb of Olympia Fields, told a startling story this week at the American Planning Association’s annual conference about a debate he recently had with a restaurant official. Why, he wanted to know, wouldn’t quality restaurants come to his mixed-race community, where the average annual household income is $77,000, above the county average?
The reply: “Black folks don’t tip, and so managers can’t maintain a quality staff. And if they can’t maintain a quality staff, they can’t maintain a quality restaurant.”
A gasp then rippled through the room in front of Mekarski. “This is one of the most pervasive and insidious forms of racism left in America today,” he says.
There’s a term for the phenomenon he’s describing: retail redlining. The practice is a more recent and less studied variation on redlining as it’s been historically recognized in the housing sector. In the context of retail, grocery stores, and restaurants, redlining refers to the “spatially discriminatory practice” of not serving certain communities because of their ethnic or racial composition, rather than their economic prospects.
This sounds like it is worth studying. This reminds me of research about food deserts and payday loan stores and pawn shops that show their relations tend to be related to social class and race. On one hand, the article suggests it is difficult in research to sort out the effects of economics and race as businesses consider a lot of factors for their locations. On the other hand, couldn’t research look at the locations of specific businesses, like Walmart or Walgreens, and see if they tend to be located in certain places over others when the economic characteristics are similar?