JC's Market Is So Old-Fashioned It's Progressive

JC's Market at 514 North Olive Street has been owned and operated for 39 years by J.C. Warwick, a quiet man who describes himself and his business as "pretty low-key." Right across from the Parkridge Community Garden, his lot stretches from Woodbine Avenue to an alley still called Briscoe Avenue on maps. Warwick could have paved the whole lot for parking. But he didn't. A small area near the building provides parking for about four cars. The rest of the lot is grass. Near Woodbine, a hackberry tree shades the sidewalk.

JC's Market sells corn meal, flour, bacon, lettuce, tomatoes, and cheese, in addition to milk and bread, cigarettes, candy bars and chips. There are bins of potatoes and onions. The market sells single rolls of toilet paper. It does not sell beer.

A&P built the store at 514 Olive more than 100 years ago.

"You don't think of A&P building these small stores like this," Warwick says, "There used to be hundreds of little stores in these neighborhoods back before anyone had a car."

The small, one-story market has the typical "general store"-style facade—a smaller rectangle resting on a larger rectangle. You see buildings shaped like this at many intersections, usually boarded up and abandoned. Now cars whiz by these remnants of a small community, of which the general store was once the heart.

In the 1970s a man visiting from Kansas City came into JC's. He told Warwick he used to work there. Back then the store had a potbellied stove where people would gather.

"The flue is still there," Warwick told him.

The man who sold the store to Warwick put paneling on the walls and built some particle-board shelves. Otherwise, little has changed in almost 40 years.

If a pedestrian is disappointed by the lack of beer at JC's, BJ's Gas Station does sell beer and is only one block away on the other side of Magnolia. But BJ's was designed to accommodate car drivers, and that one block contains many obstacles for pedestrians—heavy traffic, a wide street with no crosswalk, broken sidewalks, the remains of a demolished building, and great drifts of trash. If they had a car, most people would rather drive that block than walk it.

The Metropolitan Planning Commission has developed plans in the interest of "creating a more pedestrian-friendly Magnolia Avenue." Improvements to the Magnolia Corridor would include landscaping, removal of blight, preservation of historic buildings, and grants for businesses that promote healthy neighborhoods.

JC's Market happens to abide by many of MPC's recommendations in their plans to revitalize the Magnolia area. JC's is a retail business in a mostly residential area, following the MPC recommendation for mixed-use zoning. The sign for the market is placed perpendicular to the street so it can be seen by people walking down the sidewalk. The store is set close to the sidewalk; passersby can walk right in.

JC's Market is so old-fashioned it is progressive. A business this cutting-edge would be welcome in the arts district of an innovative city, yet JC's exists in a blighted high-poverty area where many residents don't have cars.

While I'm talking to Warwick, two little kids, a boy and a girl, walk in. The boy is eating a small bag of chips.

"Where's the two for one at?" he asks, pointing to the bag.

"Two for one dollar?" Warwick says, "Right there."

The boy buys two bags of chips, and hands one to the girl. They leave the store and walk off down the sidewalk toward Fifth Avenue.

"Where's their mommy?" my 2-year-old asks.

I had been wondering that, too.

"I guess," I said, finally, "They don't need their mommy with them because they can walk here from their house."

JC's Market, a pedestrian-oriented neighborhood corner store, is rare in a city in which public health, beauty of the land, and spaces that foster human connections are often sacrificed to accommodate cars. For people without cars—especially children under 16, senior citizens, and people with disabilities—obtaining food and household necessities is a daily struggle. One hundred years later, small neighborhood stores like JC's are still relevant, still an asset to the community.