The 5th principle of CCD is Listening to the Community. Communities are often developed by people outside of the community that bring in resources without taking into account the community itself. CCD is committed to listening to the community residents and hearing their dreams, ideas, and thoughts. This is often referred to as the felt-need concept. The people of the community are the vested treasures of the future. This blog is written by my friend, CLDI Board Member, and South Side neighbor, Linda Deavila. Enjoy!
Home on the South Side
Thirty years ago, I had a wish list for buying a house. Two things on my list were: it had to be in the Senior High District (go Broncs), and we had to live on the South Side. When I first came to Billings 50 years ago, my family’s first rental was across from South Park. Oh, how I loved the diversity of the neighborhood and wanted my children to enjoy that diversity and to know it didn’t matter what color of skin you had; we were one community, and I saw that on the South Side. At that time, we had a neighborhood grocery store, as well as a neighborhood school, and I attended the best high school – Billings Senior High! Life was good.
Back in the day, we used to have little neighborhood stores on almost every street. Each had a unique flavor. Our last grocery store was the State Ave IGA, which closed in 2001. That’s when the South Side became a food desert, with nowhere to shop for healthy choices and a lack of transportation.
Bright Side of the Tracks
Six years ago, at our Southside Task Force Meeting, we had a presentation from Melissa and Maia from Healthy by Design (HBD) telling us they had received a grant from the Kresge Foundation for placemaking on the South Side. That was a new word for most of us, but they asked us: if you could pick three things that would make a difference on the South Side, what would they be? One of our priorities was a desire for people to see the South Side for its beauty and diversity – not as the wrong side of the tracks. We came up with the slogan, Welcome to the Bright Side of the Tracks, because we felt with all our nationalities here on the South Side, we were the bright side of town. We designed signs with our new slogan, and twelve of these beautiful signs can now be found around the South Side – we are so proud of them. HBD has also helped us with poetic sidewalks, beautiful box wraps depicting what the South Side means to the artist, an amazing mural at South Park pool, and two historical walking tours. We love what this placemaking has done for our neighborhood – but we are still without a grocery store, which brings me back to our other priority for the South Side.
Believing for a Neighborhood Grocery Store
All of the projects mentioned above helped me to believe that HBD was truly serious about helping us bring back a neighborhood grocery store. I was at first quite skeptical when they said we should give it a try; after all, years prior, we were told Garfield (our neighborhood school) wouldn’t close – and then it did. But I decided to give them a chance (very reluctantly, I do admit), and in the last 6 years, we have added CLDI, Big Sky Economic Development, City of Billings, Native American Development Corporation, and Ginny Mermel to the great circle of organizations and individuals interested in partnering with us to find a way to make it happen. We have definitely had our ups and downs and some definite frustration from time to time, but I’m grateful to all of the folks who have stayed the course and continued to believe in our neighborhood and the need for a grocery store.
The biggest drawback we had this year was we had a building earmarked for our grocery store but no one to manage it. Well, last month, we lost that building and simultaneously found an interested party to manage the store. Sometimes it feels like one step forward and two steps back, but I honestly believe we are so close – keep believing with us!
If you happen to be reading this and are in the position to help us secure a building space/lot, please come forward – let’s make this grocery store on the South Side a reality!
Join Us in Continuing Forward
The ideal building for this store would have 10,000 square feet, complete with a meat counter, a deli to enjoy a sandwich with a friend/neighbor, and good quality fruits, veggies, and meat at competitive prices. We would love to support our local farmers and ranchers if possible. We also dream of having a restaurant attached – do you all remember the Koinonia Mexican Restaurant? Bringing back another restaurant like that would be an answer to prayer.
In closing, I want to give a special shout-out to HBD for all the great projects we have accomplished together on the South Side. Thank you for staying the course and believing in us. A special thank you to all our great supporters listed above for supporting us through this crazy adventure. We are blessed to have so much support from groups that are as passionate about the South Side as we are. THANK YOU!