Optimists in Lake Highlands wonder why all of us nice people who want to shop and dine locally never seem to get our way. We’re hungry for restaurants, thirsty for wine and beer, and clamoring for upscale merchandise.

When will all of this demand produce the supply that economists tell us ought to follow?

Meanwhile, rumors that Tom Thumb may be looking at a location in the future Town Center have evoked a negative reaction. Why? For starters, it’s because we’re afraid our other two Tom Thumb locations will close.

Tom Thumb at Royal/Skillman has been showing signs of distress, especially considering the visible struggles at the shopping center (most recently the loss of Sweet Temptations). Another favorite neighborhood go-to, Tom Thumb at Skillman/Abrams, has seemingly defied gravity for years, despite the competition of nearby Super Target and a bustling Fiesta within a stone’s throw.

Of course, that Tom Thumb has always been a staple supplier of wine and beer to Lake Highlands connoisseurs. But with changes in wet-dry legislation, that advantage is now moot.

Pessimists in our midst, sadly, have a valid point when they say we won’t be able to attract or retain high-quality retail unless we solve a glaring problem with one serious deal-breaker — crime.

I remember when my peers (women with school-age kids) were excited about the Walmart Neighborhood Market at Audelia-Walnut Hill. Everybody seemed to love it — until they didn’t. Suddenly, nobody seemed to go there anymore because of bad vibes, experienced either first- or second-hand. That store has been closed for years now.

So who is right, the optimists or the pessimists?

As usual, there is wisdom on both sides of the argument. We-the-stakeholders understand the dark forces in our neighborhood, but we aren’t willing to abandon our shopping centers to check-cashing businesses or bingo parlors.

Which brings me to a current debacle concerning the Kroger at Forest-Greenville.

A few weeks ago, emails flew around the neighborhood describing a scary incident at the store. Reportedly, an irate man shouted threats at employees before he left the premises. Witnesses expressed alarm not only that the incident happened, but that employees seemed to take it in stride. Some people in our neighborhood have vowed, as a result, to stop patronizing the store.

A few days later, Kroger manager Jeff Parman told me that the shouting man was a familiar shoplifter who was intent, that day, on carrying a free 12-pack of beer out of the store. Instead, employees escorted him to the exit without his beer, and the man tried to save face by making a scene, which was his worst crime that day.

To ensure safety, Parman said the store employs a security guard, and it now has a golf cart in the parking lot to discourage panhandlers. In addition, the security guard will escort shoppers to their cars if a customer makes the request.

Panhandlers! Shouting shoplifters! Is that enough to discourage you from shopping at Kroger?

If so, where else will you go?

In Lake Highlands, the familiar choices are: the two Tom Thumbs, Super Target, Walmart and Fiesta. (Good luck if you never want to run into a panhandler at any of these locations.)

I agree with Brad Henderson, president of the Moss Farm Alliance homeowners association, who wrote in an email that it’s up to us to “develop a plan where we can be a part of the solution.”

Sometimes it’s good to “laissez” and sometimes it’s good to “faire”. If you don’t want to stand by and watch while the invisible hand closes more Lake Highlands grocery stores, (and if you want to see exciting retailers show interest in our Town Center), then become part of the solution.

Shop local — not because it’s virtuous, but because it is the only way to hold onto our retail.