What was the biggest disappointment?
John Anderson: One of the biggest disappointments…[was] the failure of one of the businesses that we supported quite a bit — our grocery store, Farmer’s Best Market. There was no reason for it to fail. That was really disheartening. We really took that failure to bed with us at night.
Why do you think the store closed?
Maggie: Every time I was in that store—and I was in that store all the time–it was empty. It was a big, full-scale grocery store. There was nothing wrong with it. All those people who came to the Empowerment Experiment meetings and who called in to the radio shows didn’t take the extra step to actually try and go into Farmer’s Best and support the owner.
Five blocks up the street there was a Greek-owned food and liquor store. It was dirty, the produce was rotten, and the meat smelled–the kind of place that wouldn’t survive a day in [a white community]. The parking lot was packed with black people. I really do believe that we suffer badly from this psychosis that our stuff is not as good as everyone else’s.
What is your response to the critics who say black businesses aren’t thriving because they have bad business principles and race has nothing to do with it?
John: We saw a lot of quality businesses that were doing the right things that just weren’t getting the level of support that we would have liked seen. If you analyze the failures of businesses across all ethnic groups that would be one factor, but it stands to reason why in our community the failure rates are significantly higher and average receipts are significantly lower. All of that can not be ascribed to poor service.
Do you plan to continue your experiment in 2010?
Maggie: It is painful not doing the experiment anymore. After we lost Farmer’s Best Market we did guerrilla-style grocery shopping. We’ve been living on convenience store and gas station food since August. As much as we want to [continue] we can’t keep living like that on an extended basis, especially with our daughters [Cara, 4, and Cori, 3]. But at least 50% of our spending will be with black businesses this year.
John: The bottom line is our lives are changed forever. The businesses that we supported throughout the year that are quality businesses in line with our mission, we want to see succeed and grow. We will continue to support them even if it is not geographically desirable to do so.
Note: Karriem Beyah, the former owner of Farmer’s Best Market plans to re-launch the store at a new Chicago location in February.