In the season of miracles, here's one for you: Inglewood is getting a Banana Republic.
Well, maybe. If all goes well with the Hollywood Park redevelopment, Inglewood in the next five years will get BR and some other mall-oriented retailers that are a step up from the humbler Target, Marshall's, Bed Bath & Beyond, et al that currently constitute Inglewood's highest level of chain-store shopping. Second tier, they call it. The big-box scene will graduate up to smaller boxes that have a more refined aesthetic that will draw Inglewood closer to true shopping destinations like Manhattan Beach and El Segundo -- places that have names like The Courtyard and regard themselves not as shopping destinations, but "lifestyle centers."
Much as I want an upgrade, "lifestyle center" would be a stretch for us. What kind of lifestyle, exactly? I like how I live, I'm just not thrilled with the commercial landscape. Or the industry landscape, or the public school landscape; all right, I guess I am looking for complete transformation. And a couple of guys involved with the forthcoming Hollywood Park redevelopment (mistily called "Hollywood Park Tomorrow") say they are looking to effect just that.
I met with them last week at their office at Hollywood Park race track, which will be torn down to make room for the Banana Republics and the new housing and the park land and such. Walking to that office from the vast ocean of a parking lot, I heard the horse races -- now counted as among the last -- being announced over the PA system, and felt nostalgic already. I've said several times that I'll regret losing the track, which I never patronize but that I see as a civic touchstone, something that makes Inglewood truly different. Not a shopping destination, but distinct. Maybe it's even marked on one of those Google Earth aerial maps, which I'm sure is not true of The Courtyards of the world.
Will Banana Republic, if it comes, make Inglewood different? Only in the sense that it will make it a bit less like Inglewood and a bit more like Manhattan Beach, which I suppose is the goal here.
The two young black men I met with were dead serious about finally taking Inglewood "to the next level." They entirely sympathized with my complaint about the chronic lack of vision and/or apathy that has kept the city from being reconceived and reborn in the way that Culver City and pretty much the whole South Bay has been over the last decade. They said it no longer has to be that way and ticked off the wonderful advantages of Inglewood -- proximity to the water, sturdy middle class population -- that make it ripe for transformation, a city whose time has come.
They dealt gingerly with the disadvantages, namely the population, middle-class and not, that is primarily black and brown; they acknowledged that when retailers see black and brown they typically see only Walmart, Target, and the like. They don't see Banana Republic, Gap, Trader Joe's or even copy places like FedEx Office (formerly FedEx Kinko's). None of those places signify luxury -- not at all. But they do signify stability.
Together those places evoke a place of quiet and industriousness, also leisure time; they assume that people living in the neighborhood who aren't employed full-time are pushing baby strollers or are happily self-employed, making regular trips to FedEx Office to copy plans and scripts and projects that are always brewing. They hang out in parks and coffeehouses to realize their talents and themselves and thereby improve the life of the community around them.
The largely black and brown people I saw at Hollywood Park race track in the middle of the day were almost certainly not in that category. They had free time and dreams and projects, but for them that often does not add up to stability. Many of them are still chasing that, including myself. If a Banana Republic comes, that will be nice. It will be convenient. If it actually changes how people in Inglewood see themselves -- a pricey-ish chain store boutique that sells lower-quality stuff than what you can buy discounted at Marshall's down the block -- that will be miraculous indeed. But at this point I'm ready for anything that will take us all to the next level. I sincerely hope losing Hollywood Park is worth it.