Saturday, December 29, 2007

Making Her Voice Heard

Here's a portion of the letter we received from McKenzie Ditter, whose family owns Bun Penny. She gave us permission to reprint:

The Bun Penny market and cafe has been a part of the Columbia Mall for nearly forty years, and my family has owned it for the past eighteen. We have always struggled to survive in the mall, but after General Growth Properties' acquisition of the Rouse Company, it has become impossible. The day before this Thanksgiving, my father was notified that Bun Penny must leave the mall by January 15th. Just as they decided that Columbia no longer needed the Poinsettia Tree, they have decided that Bun Penny no longer has a place in the Columbia Mall.

Until now, my family has kept news of our closure a secret from customers and employees for fear of jeopardizing the final shipments from our food distributors. Now, with Christmas passed, I think it is safe to spread the word. I'd like Columbia to recognize the plight of small businesses in the profit-before-people culture fostered by companies like GGP. I want people to see how far the new owners of Columbia are straying from James Rouse's initial vision. My family has been struggling to pay an ever-increasing rent of $38,000 a month to a company based in Chicago that shows little to no regard for the traditions and institutions of Columbia.

I don't know what the future holds for Bun Penny, but knowing that it will no longer be a part of the mall is sad. As much as I dislike the superficiality of what the mall has become, it's hard to forget that it has been a second home to my father, mother, brother and me for as long as I can remember. As a little girl, I played in the straw barrels that we used for gift baskets. I threw temper-tantrums in front of customers, had countless crushes on cute deli boys twice my age, and broke more bottles of wine than I can remember. I collected coffee beans from the ground, made sandwich signs and window murals, sewed tablecloths, and catered the beautiful weddings of some of Columbia's most powerful residents. I can make a gift basket with my eyes closed and recite the prices of hundreds of cracker boxes and jellies and teas in my sleep. For better or worse, Bun Penny has been an extremely important part of my life, and I know I am not alone.

Bun Penny is a family business - not just my immediate family, but the extended family of employees, customers, and even old Harry the produce man. There are men and women working at this store who have known me since before I was born. The Bun Penny family has seen births, teenage romances, graduations, marriages, divorces, and deaths. Through it all, there has always been love and support for anyone in need. This family deserves to know how much they are worth and how much they have meant to us. This is not the first time that a family business has been driven out of the Columbia Mall and it does not bode well for the few that remain. Considering the Poinsettia Tree debacle, tradition appears to be a tender topic during the holidays and GGP's continued efforts to undermine such traditions should not go unnoticed. If Columbia wants to preserve its other institutions, it must continue to make its voice heard.

McKenzie Ditter

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