Maybe it was because of the rain, but no one was shopping at the Benson Farmers Market last Saturday morning, except for us. Then again, there was no one shopping at said farmers market two weeks ago when the weather was fine.
And I can’t blame them, because there ain’t much there to “shop.” Of the handful of tents that lined Military Avenue, one sold baked goods, another bedding plants, one displayed small racks of hand-made jewelry. Because of the rain, the musicians were breaking down their gear in their spot behind the guy who sharpens knives.
I’ve been going to the Benson Farmers Market for a couple years, and for a couple years it’s been slim pickings, especially compared to the harvest festival every Sunday at Aksarben Village. I asked a friend of mine who makes his own stuff why he and his wife don’t set up a tent at the Benson market. “Are you kidding me?” he said. “No one goes to that one. I don’t even know why they have it.”
Seems odd for a neighborhood who some describe as a “food desert.”
That same evening marked my returned to Louis Bar and Grill, located on the edge of Benson at 5702 NW Radial Highway, home of one of Omaha’s most recognizable neon signs, where another sign hangs above the door that says, “The legend continues.” Not, apparently, for long.
Last time I was there it was known as the “Home of the 50 Cent Draw.” And while that’s changed (My Rolling Rock and Sam Adams cost a cool $9), very little else has, including the bar’s pseudo Western decor complete with wagon wheels and fake gas-lamp lighting fixtures. The place was quiet for 8:30 on a Saturday night. While I gathered another round at the bar I asked the guy behind the counter what he thought was going to happen with the place. At first he didn’t know what I was talking about, and then said, “Oh that. Yeah, I guess they’re talking about building a gas station where the grocery store used to be. But it won’t impact us. We’ll still be here.”
I guess he didn’t get the memo. Or hadn’t seen the drawings, which made the rounds on the Internet the day before. The proposed Bucky’s gas station / convenient store / car wash would devour the entire Louis property including that “legendary” bar and grill. The convenience store’s design incorporates a brick facade -- an attempt to “blend in” with the local architecture. Sort of. But despite ingenious tree-lined landscaping designed to soften all the pavement, it’s still a gas station.
Seconds after the drawings were splashed on Facebook, the howling began. “We don’t want another gas station, we already have one!” was one common theme. “We need a grocery store, like a Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods or a Wohlner’s. A place that sells fresh produce. We live in a food desert!”
Here’s a perspective from someone who lives five pedal-powered minutes from the heart of Benson, who grew up eating melt-in-your-mouth walnut-filled fudge brownies hot out of the Benson Bakery oven, whose school year was marked by annual trips to Haney’s and Norman’s to get a new pair of shoes.
No one wants a gas station on that property. Gas stations already dot the area, including another Bucky’s just two miles away at the corner of 72nd and Maple St. The only thing worse at that location would be another Walgreens/CVS mega-pharmacy.
But while it would be awesome to have a Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods or Wohlner’s at that location, IT IS NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN. Put it out of your minds. And afterward, take a stroll around Louis parking lot and consider the construction nightmare for whatever business will inherit that 20-foot-high retaining wall that borders the northeast corner of the property -- a property that slopes downward toward the houses that sit helplessly behind it. Stop and think about the substantial investment necessary to make that property usable for any new construction.
But the people complaining on Facebook and at a recent neighborhood meeting aren’t thinking about that. They want their grocery store (and ferchrissakes, it better not be a chain store but a gourmet market loaded with organic produce, a deli and bakery!).
And as they begin to sharpen their pitchforks and light their torches, I’m reminded of a similar protest that happened about seven years ago, when the fine folks at Saddle Creek Records wanted to build a new corporate headquarters and indie music club on North Saddle Creek Road in the Metcalf Park district. I was at the neighborhood meeting for that one, and you’d have thought they had proposed building an abortion clinic across the street from a high school. The meeting looked like the “run on the bank” scene from It’s a Wonderful Life, with poor Robb Nansel playing the role of George Bailey.
“You can’t build here! We won’t won’t let you!” they yelled. In the end, the Saddle Creek guys pulled out of the area. The City cut them a sweet tax deal, and now The Slowdown and Creek offices are located in one of the fastest growing areas of Omaha. As for Metcalf Park, it got a collection of grim storage units to match its grim commercial corridor. Congratulations!
So bitch all you want about Bucky’s in Benson. If you bitch loud enough, maybe it’ll go away. But remember, you’re going to be stuck with that decaying property for years to come. No, Benson doesn’t need another filling station, and Omaha doesn’t need another convenience store. But it sure beats the alternative.
And for those Bensonites who will shake their fists at the sky and bemoan a lack of fresh produce in the area, instead of whining, do something about it. You can start with that Farmers Market that you’re so dutifully ignoring. Get behind it. Support it. Envision Military Avenue lined end-to-end with tents and fresh produce and food and people and music every Saturday morning. Or drive by on your way to fill up your tank and wonder what could have been.
Over The Edge is a weekly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, the media and the arts. Email Tim at firstname.lastname@example.org.