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Fishman: open letter to Bob Isaacson 

 It's sad but true. As a prospective homeowner, you can shop around for the best house, the best value, the best hardwood floors, 12-foot ceilings, attractive tree canopy and distance from where you need to be. But you can’t pick your neighbor.

When it comes to who is living next door to you or down the street or even upstairs if you’re in a condo, you’re up a creek without a paddle. You are at the mercy of the gods and/or your good karma.

With a barking dog, a crew of miscreant teenagers, a house of party-animals, you can leave nasty notes, give dirty looks, call the police. Or you can switch tactics and try offering honey instead of vinegar. But there are also times when you just have to bite the bullet and wait for the bastards to up and leave.

It’s a little different when Big Box Retail enters the picture. They don’t leave so easily. And when they do - when third quarter profits don’t work out, when profit expectations fail - they don’t just fold their cards and take all their toys with them. They merely open somewhere else, often leaving behind a shell of a building, a parking lot, a block of blight.

It’s also pretty hard to look them in the eye. Have you ever tried to talk to a human being at Earthlink or Bank of America or Wal-Mart?

But now - with Big Box construction looming - we have someone to look in the eye.

A few weeks ago, developer and lawyer Bob Isaacson, who has lived in Savannah about 18 years, started holding meetings with neighborhood associations to discuss plans to enter into a partnership with Family Dollar, a discount chain 6,000 strong.

Like many enterprising people these days, Mr. Isaacson came to Savannah from Atlanta, bought property at a good price - much of it left to deteriorate by scumbag slumlords who moved on to other projects - then did what many do. He borrowed money, bucked the drug lords, errant bullets and existing cockroaches, and went to work renovating.

From the looks of things, he’s been pretty successful. Some properties he sold. Some he rented. Some he sat on.

It’s a gamble, but that’s what developers do. They gamble on neighborhoods coming back so they can make their money back. It’s their money, their gamble.

There is some oversight - zoning boards, an alphabet of zoning restrictions, city aldermen offering counsel - but in the end we can only hope the Mr. Isaacsons of the world do things with taste and integrity.

Mr. Isaacson, that’s what some of us are concerned about. Taste and integrity.

So can we talk?

We want you to make money. We want you to leave a legacy behind for your children, as you stated at a recent meeting. We want you to be successful.

But is there any way you can reconsider your plans for turning the parking lot on East Broad Street between 38th and 39th streets into a Family Dollar? Without wishing to appear elitist or snobbish, some of us in the vicinity are thinking you can do something better.

Have you ever shopped at the local chains? You wouldn’t have to drive far. There are two within two miles of your proposed development.

The aisles are dangerously narrow - in their attempts, I’m assuming, to fit as much merchandise as possible in the store. The service is pitifully slow - obviously a tactic to cut down on staff and save money. The people behind the counters, competent but overworked, are surly. The trash cans out front are filled and rarely emptied.

I think our neighborhood deserves better, don’t you?

Did you know a group of 1,424 current and past store managers sued Family Dollar for not being compensated for having to work overtime and were awarded $33.2 million by a court in Alabama? Family Dollar is appealing the case but it does tell us a little something about why the stores appear so messy and the service so slow.

You say they’ll have a ten-year lease on the property. What happens if they up and leave? That happens, you know. Then what kind of eyesore are we - or you - left with?

There are plans to landscape, yes, but who will do the landscaping? Who will take the plastic out of the trees?

Our alderman, Mary Osborne, says not to worry about loitering and possible drug action around the Dumpsters - already a very obvious problem on 39th Street - that the police will take care of that. Do you agree? We’re not so sure.

If the Family Dollar on Wheaton Street or at Skidaway and Victory Drive are too far away, what about the empty storefront on Waters Avenue that used to house some kind of discount store? It has a parking lot and an existing building.

You say you want to do something for the neighborhood. Have you considered a health clinic, a satellite law office for people who can’t afford big-ticket lawyers, a storefront of artist’s studios or something with a little more local ownership with an individual we can all look in the eye and hold accountable?

Work with us, Mr. Isaacson. We’re all in this together.

To comment, e-mail us at letters@connectsavannah.com

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Jane Fishman

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