Alonzo Weston

Driving down past 17th and Messanie streets the other day I looked over where A’s JR’s McGaughy Lounge used to be and saw it was torn down and the ground around it was turned up for a block.

I remember as a kid that building used to be the Roy Curd American Legion Post 51, a legion hall for blacks. We just called it the legion, but it functioned mainly as a neighborhood bar. The lot next to the legion was our football field, a mix of broken glass beer and wine bottles, cigarette butts and trash on a patch of sparse grass.

The legion was just one of a number of black businesses on Messanie Street. From 16th to 20th on Messanie, there were barbershops, beauty parlors, bars, a teen recreation center, a restaurant and a shoe repair shop.

I’m amazed now looking at the empty block-long field around where the legion and A’s JR’s once stood, that on that side of the street somehow four or five residences, two bars and a barbershop once fit in that small space.

It’s sad to see another black business taken away, but the area is a food desert and a much-needed Dollar General store that will sell grocery items is being put in that space.

For years many people complained how there were no new businesses being built in Midtown. Now there will be a store and one in which I hope they sell fresh produce. There’s too many unhealthy fast-food and convenience store options around. Kids and adults in that area need healthier food options like the ones that were offered in the corner grocery stores of years ago.

It’s sad today that where once there was a mom-and-pop grocery store in most every neighborhood many have been replaced by a convenience store.

The grocery stores had fresh produce and a butcher counter. The convenience stores have roller food and huge containers of soda pop. Not a good trade-off.

It’s not that convenience stores are not needed. They are in today’s world, but they should never be the only nutrition option in any neighborhood.

Studies have shown that food deserts are disproportionately found in disadvantaged neighborhoods. However, opening a new supermarket has little impact on the eating habits of people in these low-income neighborhoods. Even when the residents do buy groceries from these supermarkets, they still buy products of the same low nutritional value. Part of the reason people in low-income areas opt for a $1 container of fries over a $5 dollar cup of fruit is price. Cheaper, healthier options must be offered to compete with the fast-food prices. People also need to be educated about nutritional values.

So the hope is that the new store offers affordable and healthier food choices. Also let’s hope the vandals keep away. This town has a serious problem with vandalism. Even churches are not immune.

Remember, the reason A’s JR’s McGaughy’s Lounge closed in the first place was because someone set fire to it. We can’t have that happen again nor should we tolerate it. We have to take care of our neighborhoods and our city.

Alonzo Weston can be reached


Follow him on Twitter: @SJNPWeston.