High Value, Chapter 2: The Hallway

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Nancy Hjerne wanted to be anywhere at the moment but city hall. She was seething as she lingered, waiting for the room to empty. She loathed being upstaged and outmaneuvered by the two commission members she perceived as the least sophisticated in the group. But she expected it from them, the two men. It was Bare, and her support of the motion to table, which had her most upset.

Ashley Bare was a teacher’s aide at Pineview Middle School where Hjerne taught eighth-grade English. Bare was young and outspoken and, in Hjerne’s view, not a reliable team player—an opinion reinforced by the evening’s events. Hjerne knew that Bare wanted a full-time teaching position, which would mean not only her own classroom, but a significant bump in pay and a track to tenure. Hjerne questioned whether Bare had the temperament. Or the pedigree.

She made her way out into the hall and waited for Nair and Stark. She took out her phone and pretended to be reading something important in order to avoid eye contact with Bare as she passed by. Who is Ashley to judge anyway; she’s always on her phone, Hjerne thought.

Stark came through the door, followed by Nair, and motioned them over to the far end of the hallway.

“I’m sorry, Nancy. That didn’t turn out how you wanted. I should have anticipated some of the concerns that were raised and addressed them in my staff report,” Stark said.

“It’s alright,” Hjerne replied. “I don’t think they would have read it, anyway.” And then, under her breath, she said, “If they even know how to read.”

Nair looked at his watch. “So, what’s up, Justin?”

“We have a request for a pre-submission conference for a development on the Anderson property,” the city planner replied. “They have asked for a meeting next Tuesday. I told them it would need to be after school was out if they want both of you there. I need to confirm the date and time with the two of you before we finalize.”

“What are they looking to do?” Hjerne asked.

“I didn’t bring it up earlier in the meeting because they are asking for confidentiality.” Stark said, “It’s a pre-submission conference and so, until they submit something formally, they have the right to keep it secret.”

Hjerne looked sideways at Stark. “But you know,” she said, leaving ambiguity as to whether she had made a statement or a question.

“Yes, I can tell you, but you have to keep it between us, at least until they make a formal submission,” Stark said.

Nair and Hjerne looked at each other, then turned back to Stark, both nodding in unison. The hallway was empty, but they leaned in as if already protecting the secret. Stark looked at the floor, feigning reluctance, then looked back at them.

“It’s a grocery store. A High Value. They want to start construction this spring and have it open by Memorial Day.”

Nair and Hjerne were both too stunned to speak. Stark continued.

“It’s going to be 40,000 square feet, with a coffee shop and a pharmacy. I’ve seen a preliminary site plan and I think there will be issues with parking spaces and impervious coverage, but otherwise it looks like they meet the requirements in our ordinance.”

“Does Brendon know?” asked Nair. Brendon Klein had spent part of the last hour abusing all of them, but the dire implications for his local grocery were immediately clear.

“I don’t know,” said Stark. “I don’t think so. I mean, I don’t know how he would know and, if he did, you’d assume it would have come up tonight. He’s going to blow up.”

“This town can barely support one grocery store. There is no chance of it supporting two,” Hjerne said, her earlier hostility now morphing into something approaching, but not quite reaching, sympathy.

There was a moment of silence, as if the three were paused in memoriam. A new High Value grocery store would mean the quick death of Klein’s Family Grocery. The latter was old, small, run down, with poor selection, high prices, and often worse service. Everyone shopped there today because the nearest big box grocery store was a forty-minute drive away. Nobody would shop there with a brand-new High Value three blocks up the highway.

“He’s going to blow up,” Nair repeated, still processing the implications.

“Will Tuesday work,” Stark asked. Both nodded.

The countdown clock on Klein’s Family Grocery began turning.

Stay tuned next week for chapter three!

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