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Occupy Broad Street

Surely Fargo has its share of the One Percent. With 125,00 people in the metro area, that’s roughly 1,250 breathing the rarified air of Wall Street. I’ve met a couple of them at a local coffee house and eavesdropped on a handful of others. [I should add, parenthetically, they don’t creep me out nearly as much as the Bible Lady who seems to be re-writing the Good Book every weekday from 10 to 11.]

Nearby, at the corner of Second and Broadway on US Bank Plaza (but very careful to be on the public right-of-way rather than actual bank property) are a few folks representing the 99 Percent—among whom I’m proud to count myself. No one is actually camping on the site, but they did have a tent set up for the inevitable wind, rain and snow flurries that are expected this weekend. On any weekday there can be one or a half dozen or just a place-holding sign. Passing by car or foot, I wave my approval and offer thanks for their sacrifice, for giving the national phenomenon a local face.

Agincourt is barely a fifth the size of Moorhead-Fargo, so the folks occupying Broad Street are far fewer, I suppose. Has it made strange bedfellows of them, as it has in NYC? And has it divided families or brought them together?

“A few figs from thistles…”

by Howard A. Tabor

Occupying Broad Street

Nineteenth century banking in Agincourt was a local affair, practically a family matter. Banks were of, by and for the community they served and the banker’s wealth rose and fell with the local economy, but we also experienced larger trends like the nationwide panics of 1873 and 1895.

Competition was a good thing, yet the phenomenon of “Bigger is Better” had appeared before 1900, when the Farmers & Mechanics Bank (heavy with agricultural loans) merged with the larger Merchants National to form the FM&M (popularly, the F&M-squared). Its 1908 headquarters still stands at the corner of Broad and Agincourt—neo-classical architecture reflecting the growing conservatism within.

To encourage home ownership, the Fennimore Building & Loan Association received its charter at about the same time—1897—as a cooperative venture with hundreds of shareholders and a salaried staff. But with the 20th century also came the inkling of Big Box Banks (with absentee shareholders) who bought up smaller local institutions and changed the face of banking—or, rather, hid its face—especially after the Great Depression and World War II. Somehow the venerable FM&M has held out against the likes of Wells-Fargo and BofA. And they’ve been joined by the Tri-County Credit Union and the on-line Big Orange.

Jane

I live on Broad Street and work a block north on its other side. My fresh bread comes from Vandervort’s Bakery, three doors from home. My glasses, from the optician a few doors from there; next door is my barber. I know all these people. Broad Street is my neighborhood.

So I walked past the Occupiers on the way to coffee Friday afternoon. Jane was working the counter, so we talked about the protesters, almost within sight a block and a half away. “I don’t  know what they want,” she said. “But I know what they don’t want and neither do I.”

Jane has been serving me coffee and a cruller for twenty years; I’ve had dinner at her house. She’s worked hard to get a daughter into pharmacy school and a nineteen-year-old son, still living at home, into a law enforcement program at the community college in Fort Dodge. She’s earned more than our gratuity and our gratitude: she’s earned our respect.

I put on my coat and walked to the register, anxious to meet a 5:00 deadline. Jane met me there with four cups of coffee to go. “Give these to our friends on the corner. It’s getting nippy out there.”

It’s getting nippy everywhere, Jane.


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