Mourning Loss of Mackerel Sky // Eliot Singer

I was saddened to see that Mackerel Sky will be closing, after celebrating 30 years. I met Tom and Linda in 1980, right after we first moved to Michigan, when they were co-owners of Brother Gambit, back when downtown East Lansing had a vibrant small, locally-owned, business community, which we regularly patronized, despite, at the time, living in west Lansing. There was still such a community, as well as vibrant historic neighborhoods and the top local school system, when we chose to buy a house in East Lansing in 1985. During our last 15 years in East Lansing, Mackerel Sky, Curious Books, and Saper Gallery were the only reasons to go downtown.

Linda and Tom are what local business owners should be, responsible and active in the community, for the sake of the community, not playing angles and engaging in power politics with officials and politicians (like the city’s beloved tax-dodging cronies).

I also see that selling booze at mega-corporation Target is in the news. Remember, when they announced Target they tried to promote it on fresh produce and failed to mention they were going to sell booze to college students as the best way to turn a buck, not that anyone believed them. My only regret about fleeing East Lansing is that there was no one to take my place rolling out recall petitions against Meadows the day he announced a backroom deal for Lot 1, doing a legally-questionable end-around the city charter which required a public vote for a property that, based on what the developer paid a year earlier to acquire private properties along Grand River, had a paper value around $17 million. I see one of the advocates from LEAP, always a disreputable organization, now works for the developer.

I am a small-is-beautiful, buy-local, person. I believe green means trees not fuel-efficient sky-scrapers. The push for “density” as an alternative to sprawl has universally resulted in gentrification and destruction of small-and-local (and done nothing to prevent sprawl).

In Traverse City, there was a ballot initiative to prevent tall buildings. Debt for parking structure and major public works using TIF, instead of the only legitimate way for financing public works, voter-approved millages, inevitably leads to need for growth that is incompatible with small is beautiful, buy local, because high cost buildings charge rents that small local businesses cannot afford. Small local businesses, including eateries, can only survive with low rents, which is why they thrive on the margins. In Traverse City, we are downtown at least twice a week, never by car (bus or foot), even though we live further away than in East Lansing, because there are so many small, local, businesses and eateries.

East Lansing residents—all my friends are small-is-beautiful people—never had a say in whether they wanted the “next great city in the midwest” model pushed by former city manager, “Ted Almighty” Staton and his enablers and successors. I have never hesitated in calling Staton a fascist and institutions like DDA, BRA, and MEDC, “fascistic,” to quote “maverick Democrat” Zoltan Ferency. I’ve lost track of how much “next great city” has cost in terms of unfunded debt service, overuse of tax incentives, and sweetheart leases, but it is well over $100.000.000.

Mackerel Sky is one of the last remaining places small-is-beautiful people would patronize in downtown East Lansing. I wonder how many people from the neighborhoods will drive downtown and park in the new parking structure to buy their booze at Target?

-Eliot Singer

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