Stored Away 

Convenience -- whether it's in room service, taxis, or a Big Gulp soda -- always costs a little more. But residents of Messick Buntyn are concerned that a proposed convenience store on Carnes is going to cost them everything.

The shop, once home to a furniture refinisher, was built in the 1920s and has been grandfathered in as a commercial property in a residential area. Across the street is Messick High.

"We feel it would cause a lot of negative problems," says longtime resident Lisa Jorgensen, the de facto head of the neighborhood association. "We feel it's going to encourage vagrancy and loitering and more crime at that location."

Jorgensen describes Messick Buntyn as an integrated neighborhood: There is a mix of all types of people and properties. The residents are mostly elderly and working-class people, but because of the neighborhood's proximity to the University of Memphis, there is also a large number of college students.

"It's centrally located," says Jorgensen. "It has a real small-town feeling with a bit of a rural element. We have so many huge trees and big backyards."

But it is not a paradise. Before he retired, the furniture refinisher was robbed at gunpoint. And residents worry that the proposed store could be a tipping point for the area.

"There's been some decay [in the neighborhood] over the last four or five years," says Jorgensen. "If there were a lot of problems [with the convenience store], the decline will accelerate instead of reversing."

Could one piece of property make that much difference?

Tom Borek and his wife moved to Memphis about six years ago from New York. After renting for a short time, they settled on Messick Buntyn because of its location and because they thought it was a good place that was getting better.

"I think all of us in the neighborhood, especially those of us with children, are always watching to see: Will it get better, will it get safer, have we made a good investment, or have we made a mistake?" he says. "If there was a convenience store at the corner of Carnes and Greer, selling beer, cigarettes, and junk food, I would not have bought a house here. Allowing something like this would be a sign that the city does not intend to have this neighborhood improve and be a good place to live."

Already, Borek says, the neighborhood has a problem with litter. He sees people throw trash out their car windows or just open the car door and drop it.

"We get a lot of foot traffic, so we get beer bottles and fast-food wrappers," he says. "We get a lot of that even though we're not on a route with such a store."

And having a store in the neighborhood, he says, could only make the problem worse.

Which is perhaps why zoning is so important. No one wants to live next to a junkyard or a chemical plant. Those are obvious examples, but smaller changes -- even the amount of trash on the street -- can affect an area just as much because it relates to the quality of life.

I don't know how this particular store will affect the nearby community. But I know that neighborhoods are delicate microcosms. Statistics say once 15 percent of an area is in decline, it becomes extremely difficult to turn a community around. And when it reaches 20 percent, it's almost impossible.

The convenience-store location is scheduled to be considered for a use variance later this week. Although the commercial property was previously grandfathered into the residential area, the space has been empty for about a year.

"Park Avenue is only three blocks away. They could locate a commercial venture there and still capture the market they want to capture," says Jorgensen.

Neighbors say they don't mind commercial property in the area; they wouldn't mind seeing a nursery, a day-care center, or artist-studio space in that location.

Or since it's residential, maybe even some new neighbors.

"I personally would love to see a realtor there," says Jorgensen. "People don't show houses in this quadrant at all. There's an absolutely gorgeous house next to me that's for sale. It's the best deal in the city."

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