Recent transplants may be under the impression that downtown Winston-Salem has always been popping. With all of its razzle-dazzle, even natives are finding the picture of downtown past fading away from their memories.
The area’s metamorphosis is nothing short of miraculous. Less than 20 years ago, downtown was bereft of the street festivals, breweries, restaurants and swank dwellings. Like many center cities around the nation, the area was a casualty of white flight and the suburban boom that the mass exodus created.
Black residents – at least those whose economic status made it impossible to seek greener pastures – kept downtown from becoming a complete ghost town by patronizing the last of its retail stores and restaurants. So it stings a bit that now that the area is again de rigueur, blacks aren’t getting a piece of the pie.
Many of the city leaders who cleared the way for public money to be used to resuscitate downtown seem to think that it is enough that the area offers opportunities for black folks to enjoy music, fine dining and club experiences. But that’s superficial diversity. Show us the money!
Those reaping the dollars from the downtown cornucopia aren’t racially diverse enough, and, seemingly, that’s not a big deal to anyone, even to the power-brokers at City Council.
Believe it or not, five of eight City Council members – aldermen, back then – were black in the late 1990s when the Council voted to unceremoniously extrude several small black business owners from a city-owned Trade Street building that sat across from where Sweet Potatoes and Chelsee’s operate today.
Kicked out to make way for Traders Row – the red brick leviathan that houses several pricey condos and businesses like ISP Sports and Walter Robbs Callahan & Pierce – the shop owners received financial assistance from the City to relocate. Of course, it was a pittance compared to what they needed to share a street with showy outfits like Traders Row, so they were quintessentially exiled from downtown. And the band played on.
We are proud of Walter Little for daring to step up and claim his stake in a downtown that he helped to keep afloat. His Purr-Fect Cut Barbershop is one of the few black-owned businesses that survived downtown’s near demise and its turn toward gentrification. The beautiful lofts he created above his barbershop should serve as an example for both entrepreneurs of color and city leaders, who should be more to open to throw funds and support behind folks like Little and less of it to developers with pockets that are already deep enough to fund baseball stadiums, housing ventures and the like.