|The blueprint for how McDonald's - and all corporate America - went 365Black|
An unforgettable illustration of the kind of difficulties we ran into was Cabrini-Green. In 1971, the company [McDonald’s] decided to build a new restaurant across the street from the massive cluster of government housing projects called Cabrini-Green, in the old “Little Italy” section of Chicago. The company had great hopes for the Cabrini-Green venture, which was the first new store constructed in a majority black area in Chicago. The potential market was huge: more than 15,000 people lived in the projects. Unemployment was extremely high, but our black McDonald’s owners in other low-income Chicago areas were already showing increased sales and earnings, so everyone thought it was do-able in the projects. I was convinced that the Cabrini-Green store would provide employment and the kind of job training that would translate into wider opportunities for project residents.
The new store seemed to me an ideal opportunity to act on Ray Kroc’s commitment to give back to the community.
The plan went forward in a real spirit of optimism. The flaw was that no one, myself included, dug deeply enough into the situation at Cabrini-Green to really grasp the inherent problems. We badly misjudged the economic viability of the location. Most of the people in the projects lived entirely or partly on welfare or Social Security, and they only had money to spend on the few days after their government checks arrived (or, for the fortunate few, when they received their pay checks). Also, Cabrini-Green was among the worst maintained and most dangerous housing projects in the whole country, and many of the residents didn’t feel safe leaving their apartments, much less visiting the restaurant or sending their kids there. Although situated near some of the city’s most affluent areas, Cabrini-Green was like an isolated island. Non-residents rarely came into the projects unless they had to, and they left as soon as they could, so there was very little pass-through traffic to sustain businesses when the locals stayed away.
The Cabrini-Green projects were often compared to a prison, and prisons breed lawlessness. The first trouble came almost immediately when a local black preacher and a so-called “activist,” backed up by young men from the projects, began pressuring the owner-operator, Andrew Davis, for jobs and favors in what was basically a shakedown scheme.
The situation was similar to what Sherman Claypool faced in Milwaukee, and there was always the potential that it could flare into a mini-version of the 1969 Cleveland boycott [PK NOTE: we wrote about that here]. I was Andy’s field consultant, and I supported him when he stood up to the pressure. Frustrated, the troublemakers went around us to corporate, and Pat Flynn, the area manager for McOpCo (the company owned stores), and Joe Brown… were drawn in to negotiate some kind of settlement, with help from those of us in the regional office. Both Pat and Joe got death threats, but they also refused to cave. Joe was adept at turning the activists’ demands back on themselves: They would call for a jobs program; Joe would ask them to present their plan for the program; then they would back off because, of course, they had no plan. Jobs weren’t what they were really after. Joe and Pat eventually did negotiate for landscaping work, and McDonald’s helped the group start a landscaping business. But the whole thing petered out when the would-be extortionists lost interest.
The Cabrini-Green McDonald's -- like the Wal-Mart in Tuskegee, a near 100 percent black community couldn't sustain a private business; nor could they sustain the Cabrini-Green projects...
Andy Davis was an experienced operator and became a valued member of the BMOA [Black McDonald’s Operating Association]… but even he couldn’t make the Cabrini-Green restaurant successful. With so little money in the housing projects and no outside traffic, the store could not build volume and was frequently empty. It struggled on for several years but was eventually closed by McDonald’s. In financial terms, it was a failure. The company never gave up on any store without a fight, so I’m sure there were also some bruised egos inside the Ivory Tower when the Cabrini-Green store was shut down. (p. 223-225)
In the absence of whiteness, you get a situation like that found at the former Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) Cabrini-Green or Robert Taylor Homes -- like a black hole, everything near it was sucked into the nothingness of the 365Black community.
Not even McDonald's was spared.
The moral of the story?
The era of 365Black - not just McDonald's marketing strategy, but Black-Run America as well - will pass.
Our job is to survive.