About a decade ago, the Town of Selma started working on its change to an "Antique Mecca", as it was put then. During that time, The Latter Rain Bookstore moved out of downtown and became Good Books near the new Wal-Mart. The store was much smaller, though it was a busier and more expensive location. It was sad to see the store leave, since it was the only Christian bookstore in the area at the time and was well known. I guess that Billy Wall wanted to try a change in his business strategy, and I can not fault him for that. The unfortunate part is that it really didn't work out for him.
That is not the point of my story, however. While that was going on, his empty store was rented to a church. Not just any church, a Black congregation. At the time, I am told, there were Klan members still around and involved in town government. I was told this by a local business man whom I got to know who was communicating with some of these town officials and reportedly revealed their agenda.
I agree that the storefront would be better served as just that, a storefront rather than a place of assembly. There was already one more church meeting in downtown at the time, and perhaps one other, if I recall, but am not sure. Those pieces of real estate would serve the public better as retail establishments. Not necessarily as antique shops, however. Antique shops are fine for out of town visitors, but they do relatively little for residents.
At this same time, the then town manager worked with a building owner to have one of the tenants removed from her shop. Again, she was Black and had a small gift shop with a Christian theme. Only when she threatened to coordinate a march on Selma reminiscent of the civil rights marches of the sixties did the town work to find her another downtown location and give her a break on her utility bills.
That sort of underhanded politics is inappropriate for a town. It is also racist behavior considering the undercurrents that were prevalent at the time. Two men, myself included, were very unpopular for speaking out against this sort of thing when we were working at WBZB here in Selma.
I have no problem with restricting places of assembly if it is being done in accordance with a set plan and agenda. The way it was being handled made me want to vandalize the billboard that used to be on Hwy. 70 near the Bayer plant. It used to say: "Selma: A friendly town just ahead, filled with antiques". I wanted to make a few word changes to read "Selma: A corrupt town just ahead, filled with bigots". I joked to my wife often that I was going to redo that billboard.
I am also not a fan of organized religion. That may surprise many people to hear me say that. I was a part of organized religion for years. I let it go, seeing the corruption and impurity therein. I have spent more time in small group fellowship and often alone in the wilderness. I still maintain fellowship with several brethren of my choosing. I personally prefer to "be" rather than "go to" church.
As I have issues with how many church congregations handle their affairs, I also find it amusing how many are bad citizens, if a congregation can be considered a citizen. A minister I am familiar with also comments on this same thing. I have not yet met the man in person, but we do have mutual friends and we have communicated a time or two.
The bottom line is that I am not all that supportive of storefront churches, since the real estate would be better used for other purposes and would benefit the town much more if there were viable, active businesses in those spaces. I have no huge problem with not allowing places of assembly in a business district, since that is the purpose of a business district. That is part of systematic citywide planning. I get it. I do, however, have a problem with disallowing a church group to legally rent a building for their purposes when there are no existing prohibitions. I am all for a property owner being able to rent to whom he or she chooses. I am vehemently opposed to governmental interference with a legal transaction or influencing tenant requirements just because the tenants happen to be Black. There is no excuse for that.
I am not saying that this is the case with the Town of Kenly's recent decision to put a moratorium on storefront churches. Those storefronts will be empty for some time. Churches will only draw people on Sunday mornings and maybe Wednesday nights when most businesses are closed, so there is no real benefit to the downtown area.
Anyway, here is the story from WMPM's web site.
Kenly Adopts Moratorium On Store Front Churches - A number of downtown Kenly storefronts have become vacant in the past few months. Kenly town leaders don’t want the vacant buildings filled with storefront churches. This week the town council adopted a 60-day moratorium on store front churches in the Kenly central business district. Officials said they wanted to see businesses in the downtown area.