The Public Square Is a Grocery Store

4 min read
April 7, 2021


- Guest Poem by Pam Davis, City of Boulder -


I have no words to describe the community heartbreak for the ten lives lost to gun violence at a grocery store in Boulder, Colorado in March of 2021. 

News of such tragedy seems all too common. In these times, local government leaders not only serve the safety needs of their residents, but also join them as the community grieves and heals. 

“As our team works 24/7 to continue to respond to our community’s needs, it can be hard to take time to process our own grief and anger at the attack on our store and the awe we feel watching our neighbors heal together,” said City of Boulder Assistant City Manager Pam Davis. 

The sense of loss is devastating for family and friends, as well as neighbors who live and work in Boulder and shop at the grocery store. And yet, seeing the community come together to show love and support inspires hope. 

My team and I at Polco are grateful to share Davis’ poem for other local government leaders. We have an office located in Boulder, and all of this hits close to home. But Davis’ message expands beyond regional lines. 

Davis points out that the local grocery store is central to any community. “It belongs to all of us,” she writes. The people matter most in any city, and the grocery store is essential to their daily lives. It’s why local government leaders serve. It’s even why Polco was created. To improve community quality of life for all.

Hope and pride in her community moved Davis to create and share this poem in light of the recent tragedy.  “I wrote this poem … for my community and to start to make sense out of the senseless,” said Davis. 

— Angelica Wedell, Communications Director, Polco

The Public Square Is a Grocery Store

- Pam Davis, Assistant City Manager, City of Boulder -


The public square is a grocery store.
That’s a hard thing to admit
as a public servant
who wishes it were city hall.
But I’ll insist ‘til I’m through
that government matters too
but the grocery store matters more.
It’s open daily to everyone, from morning to midnight hours.
Wave to your neighbors, say yes to that big cookie, and remember, you’re out of flour.
Pay for your things
when the cash register rings
and smile as you walk out the door.
Came in for a carton of milk, left with a little more.

A woman I once knew in support group shared
that those aisles were the safest she felt anywhere.
Anywhere, on the planet.
She got to decide
what to look at and what to buy,
and when to speed right past it.
An ideal Friday night for her
was taking her shopping cart out for a tour.
She liked to stop by the one a little farther from her home
The one with the extra departments for her to roam.
It was open 24 hours and she confidently knew
there were no limits to what she could do.
She was 64 years old and discovering what made her happy for the first time in her life.

8 Years ago I served to help a mountain town after the flood.
Because I was a visitor,
I picked out nightly dinner,
from the grocery store up the road from town hall.
Day after day
the weeks passed away
as I stood in the check-out line,
eavesdropping on conversations that weren’t mine.
Observing a community full of despair,
finding solace and connections in the public square.
In the beginning, they were united by grief,
angry, upset, and needing relief.
Over time they were proud, showing strength through their tears,
and inspired by each other to persevere.
My last day in town, I took a walk about
and the thank you card aisle was completely sold out.

8 years later, I’m just down the mountain, and the public square is still a grocery store.
For months all who love it have exclaimed it’s essential,
open in a pandemic, it’s that consequential.
Except for this time,
it is fenced off on all sides,
with broken windows and empty check-out lines.
After the actions of one,
just a man with a gun,
there are no thank you cards for sale today.
The public mourns outside the square after it was stolen away.
But outside the fence, there are so many cards. Sad cards, mad cards, prayer cards.
10 good people died
and no one knows why,
and the man was marched out the door, no shirt, no shoes, just funeral services.

The thing about public squares though, the thing about grocery stores, is that
even when they are broken,
even when they are not open,
they still belong to everyone, I keep hearing that truth spoken.
For the past week in every place I have been,
from every face that I’ve seen,
is someone saying … that’s. my. grocery store.
And because it belongs to all of us,
from the big to the small of us,
NO one can take it all from us.
Windows can be repaired,
the memories can still be shared,
and once again, we will return to the public square.

 About the Author

Local government service is Pam Davis’ passion because she believes we accomplish more working together than separately. For the past nine years, she has worked on behalf of communities to promote equity, partnership, and innovation. Pam is currently Assistant City Manager for the City of Boulder, Colorado, where she works with an incredible team to address adaptive challenges. In addition, she serves as the chair of CivicPRIDE, the nation’s first professional association dedicated to advancing LGBTQIA+ leadership in local government.

Prior to Boulder, Davis served two different communities in Arizona: as the Budget Officer in Sierra Vista and the Assistant to the City Manager in Goodyear. Her local government service began as the Management Assistant in Fort Collins, Colorado. During that time, she also served on a temporary assignment with the town of Estes Park, Colorado, assisting the Town with disaster recovery efforts from the autumn floods of 2013. 

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