Local African-American business owners face the challenges of an open market
A white Charlottesville resident is about two-and-a-half times more likely to be a business owner than is a black resident, according to U.S. Census figures. But though this statistic is hardly something to cheer about, it’s less skewed than the national white-to-black business owner ratio, as well as the numbers for other similar-sized cities [see chart].
In another telling statistic, while African-Americans account for more than 22 percent of Charlottesville’s population, the 591 firms they own account for only 11 percent of the town’s total businesses. But this share is higher than the percentage of African-American-owned businesses in Virginia or in the nation, which stand at 7 and 4 percent, respectively.
William Harvey, the City of Charlottesville’s primary liaison to the minority business community since 1987, attributes much of the progress of local black business owners to stable economic footing gained through catering to a wide range of City residents. Harvey contrasts this nimble business standard with the days when black-owned businesses and residents were clustered in the Vinegar Hill neighborhood. (Much of Vinegar Hill was razed in the name of urban renewal in the 1960s.)
“This was a segregated type of economy where blacks serviced blacks,” Harvey says of the Vinegar Hill era. Harvey says Charlottesville is now an “open market” where most successful businesses must “address the needs of everybody.”
But though many black businesses have thrived by reaching out to UVA students, tourists and white residents, some business owners cite the difficulties that result from not being able to rely on a closely-knit neighborhood such as Vinegar Hill.
“That’s the biggest challenge. You have to serve everybody,” says Dr. Benegal S. Paige, an African-American dentist who has owned his own practice in Charlottesville for 24 years. “Basically people in [the Vinegar Hill] era catered to their own group.”
Both Paige and William Lewis, the owner of Duplex Copy Center and a former chair of the Central Virginia Minority Business Association, agree that Charlottesville’s black business community lacks the strength of those in larger cities such as Richmond or Atlanta. They say black businesses in those cities can rely on banks that are geared toward making loans to minority-owned businesses, and can also rely on business from other African-Americans. For example, Lewis says if Charlottesville had major black-owned law firms, as does Atlanta, “I guarantee you I’d get more business.”
Charlottesville Mayor Maurice Cox, himself an African-American business owner, says the community is not large enough to support a minority-driven market. “They really have to have a broad-based appeal,” Cox says of local black-owned businesses. He says minority business owners have risen to this challenge, and adds that strong marketing efforts will be an important facet of keeping the community moving in the right direction.
As evidence of the growing diversity and health of Charlottesville’s minority business community, Harvey displays a map that pinpoints minority-owned businesses in 1986 and in 2003. The dots for 2003 are far more broadly dispersed around the City than those from 1986, which are clumped to the west of the Downtown Mall.
Paige echoes Harvey’s optimism, and says he’s seen progress in the minority business community in recent years. He says the City has worked hard to help minorities secure loans and develop business plans. And of Vinegar Hill’s displacement, Paige says: “I think that old wound has pretty much healed.”
But despite the efforts of Harvey and other local black leaders, it’s clear that black business owners still face an uphill battle in Charlottesville.
“We’ll never make it equal and balanced,” Lewis says of the local business playing field for African-Americans. “But you try.”
The black community itself needs to work harder to support its business owners, says Scottie B., the African-American owner of the Garden of Sheba restaurant and organizer of the roving Club Massive dance party. “Why aren’t they coming out to support what we’re doing?” is a question Scottie B. says he’s asked his black neighbors. He says he “has no problems” with serving a wide blend of customers, but claims his restaurant, which opened in August, gets most of its support from the white community. As a result, Scottie B. says he worries that black Charlottesville may be “forgetting about our own people.”—Paul Fain
Meating the need
Hunters for the Hungry takes aim at filling food banks
The period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is Steve Morgan’s busy season. When most folks are spending hours at the mall hunting for packages, Morgan is spending hours in his shop packaging for hunters. It’s both deer season and a season for giving, and as part of a unique program, Morgan brings the two together.
Morgan is Albemarle County’s official meat processor (the polite term for butcher) for Hunters for the Hungry, a 12-year-old national organization that provides thousands of pounds of venison a year to food banks and other nonprofit organizations for distribution to the needy. Founded in 1991 by David Horne, then-general manager of a program to salvage and distribute produce, Hunters for the Hungry was modeled on a Texas organization that salvaged and distributed meat. Horne succumbed to cancer early last year, but the program had grown under his leadership—it provided 33,948 pounds of venison the first year and 266,456 pounds in 2002.
Deer are a plentiful, nutritious source of meat in Virginia, and hunters can easily bag more than they can eat during the October-January hunting season. Processors like Morgan—there are 64 in the state—are collection points for hunters to drop off extra game. The processors remove all of the meat from the deer, package it and store it for the program to pick up.
Morgan, a soft-spoken, amiable 32-year-old, lives with his wife and two small children near Schuyler in a spread that has been in his family since the Civil War. Much of his work comes from providing taxidermy services to hunters, but during deer season he takes on two part-time employees to help him manage the processing workload. It takes about a half hour for a professional to skin, cut and package an adult deer, and in the busy season Morgan and his crew may go through 15 a day, about 20 percent of which are donated to the program. This is Morgan’s second year participating in Hunters for the Hungry, and he estimates last year he processed 70 deer for the organization, providing approximately 2,500 pounds of meat.
A hunter himself since he was 10 years old, Morgan is unaffected by critics of his trade. Deer are plentiful in Virginia, they grow up wild and are killed in a much more humane manner than animals raised for slaughter, and all parts of the carcass are used—the shoulder and neck for burger meat, the hindquarters and tenderloin for steaks and the remaining scraps sold to rendering companies. According to the Hunters for the Hungry website (www.h4hungry.org), venison is a “quality high-protein, low-fat item not normally available” to the needy.
Although the deer are donated by hunters, and the food banks distribute the meat, it still takes funds to run the organization and pay the processors, who charge the charity a reduced rate for their services. Fortunately for the program, the government recently passed the David Horne Hunger Relief Bill, which will provide an opportunity for hunters to donate $2 to Hunters for the Hungry when they apply for their licenses. For those looking to get more bang for their buck—‘tis the season.—Chris Smith
To go with the flow
Meadow Creek will be “daylighted” as The Dell gets a stream
Before Emmet Street existed, Meadow Creek was the dominant physical presence in the natural valley the road now follows. After emerging from a spring on Observatory Hill, the creek heads northwesterly toward Emmet Street and then runs with the road all the way from the Central Grounds Parking Garage up to Barracks Road. Charlottesville residents can be forgiven for overlooking this portion of Meadow Creek, however, as the segment is contained in underground pipes.
But for the first time since 1950, some of this not-so-scenic stretch will be unearthed. In recent weeks, as part of the construction project for the new basketball arena, UVA began working to “daylight” a portion of Meadow Creek located in “The Dell” on the UVA campus.
“We’re actually taking what’s in a pipe and bringing it above ground,” says Richard Laurance, the director of the University Arena Project. “It took 100 years to get everything below ground. Now we’re taking it up.”
The stream was banished to a pipe so the University could level out and use the land, says Jeff Sitler, an environmental compliance manager for the University. The project will resurrect about 400 feet of the stream and return it to some form of nature. The new Dell will feature an emerged stream, retaining pond, biofiltration system, meadows, a walkway, and plantings of ash and poplar trees and other vegetation.
Currently, Meadow Creek’s last glimpse of daylight before the underground stretch is about 100 yards west of Emmet Street in The Dell. Here, the stream trickles into a concrete pipe about 3′ in diameter, and immediately passes under a few picnic tables as it begins the long pipe run past the Barracks Road Shopping Center.
But just a few feet before Meadow Creek goes subterranean is a newly constructed right-fork that leads to the beginning of an artificial streambed. The still-dry waterway is lined with neatly stacked stones, and winds its way between tennis and basketball courts before joining a new retaining pond adjacent to Emmet Street. Bulldozers, two portable toilets and stacks of mud and rocks sit on the muddy construction site, where there will eventually be one of the planned meadows. On a recent Wednesday morning, a work crew could be seen and heard laboring with a power saw.
The benefits of the $1.2 million Meadow Creek daylighting project, according to UVA Landscape Architect Mary Hughes, are practical, ecological and economic. She says the emerged section of Meadow Creek and the retaining pond will reduce the storm water strain on the pipe system, which will remain in service, and will help to prevent flooding problems around the new arena and elsewhere downstream. While they’re at it, UVA is installing new sanitary sewer and water lines as part of the project, Laurance says.
UVA’s earthmovers hardly conjure up warm feelings for local conservationists, but this massive landscaping project actually has an environmental benefit. The daylighted stream will help clean the water in Meadow Creek, both in UVA territory and further downstream. The exposure to sunlight, vegetation and other stream life all serve “to make the water quality better than it is in a sealed pipe,” Hughes says. Finally, she says a babbling brook in the newly sylvan Dell will be a “landscape amenity” for UVA students.
According to Sitler, the reestablishment of vegetation along the stream will take longer than building a new streambed. And though construction at the Meadow Creek project is moving along, with the University anticipating a June completion date, Sitler says it “will probably be harder to put [Meadow Creek] back” in a streambed than it was to put it in a pipe. —Paul Fain