The traditional desirability of having a church, even a storefront congregation, next door in many Southern towns is no longer the case as this region undergoes an economic rebound and many downtown areas are being revitalized, reports the Wall Street Journal (March 15).
These “sanctuaries, once considered beyond anyone’s reproach in the Bible Belt, are now targets for eviction and subjects of `no rent’ laws. The acrimony is a matter of simple economics. Storefront churches, typically start-up operations that can’t afford to build fancy structures or steeples, began to go up in old downtowns decades ago. For landlords, they were a godsend, filling space left vacant by stores.”
But as downtown areas transform themselves into quaint shopping districts seeking to draw professionals away from the malls, the storefronts are being viewed as “glitches” in these developers’ plans; they don’t generate weekday traffic, don’t pay taxes, or add revenues, writes Lucinda Harper. In one such city, Selma, N.C., banning the rentals to churches three years ago has seemed to improve the economic climate.
In the past two years, 25 new shops have opened and the rents have increased, while the number of churches dropped from six to two. One lawyer, however, says storefronts have their own function: they help turn prostitutes and drug addicts into viable community members. After that, “they have jobs and are paying taxes.”