My, how the times are changing, especially with respect for business among minorities.
The Free Press staff is assembling a Black Business Directory for publication later this year. We’ve been making phone calls, knocking on doors and compiling names, addresses for several months now.
We’ve learned one thing in the process, there is a large and growing number of Black Business in Ouachita Parish, much of which is invisible to the naked eye because the new generation of businesses have a world market and have a digital presence rather than a brick and mortar storefront.
Many can remember a time when the local Black business district was easily identifiable by the presence of brick and mortar storefronts and signs. In Monroe, the black business district spanned from 5th Street to 14th Street along Desiard. Businesses of every kind were packed into the “district.”
A stroll of the area today reveals a relative ghost town, where only a handful of the over 400 Black business still exist as they did in the 1950s.
What happened? Integration and a gradual shift in the business model began almost simultaneously.
The Black business community existed to fill a need. Our community spending power was not respected, so largely we were disrespected. Often we relegated to a race that was tolerated rather than appreciated for our spending power. To avoid humiliation and prejudice in the market place the black business community was born.
We pushed hard to establish and support Black businesses, even if it meant paying more for products and services; we paid more because we wanted respect.
As laws changed after 1954, desegregation of public accommodations changed the playing field and many whites removed the “white and colored” signs, began to hire black workers in respectable positions, and actively solicited black businesses.
Black businesses lost their niche. Blacks started looking for lower prices and the new generation was unwilling to pay more for services they could get from white businesses that now hired blacks as managers, cashiers, and supervisors. Fewer Black businesses opened their doors. By the 1980’s, the district was only half its original size.
By the turn of the century, the district was virtually gone.
While the district disappeared, black businesses didn’t completely disappear, many chose to adopt new models of business rather than retail brick and mortar shops.
We saw it first in the late 60’s with the rise of Tupper Ware, Mary Kay and Revlon representatives who conducted business in homes. Without the internet, men like Albert Johnson built successful businesses representing Stuart McGuire Shoes and Watkins products, using nothing but a car, a brief case and a catalog..
Johnson bought a home, put his kids through school and lived comfortably by conducting a mailorder business from his car. He was in business successfully but never had a brick and mortar shop.
Today, we are assembling the first directory that has been compiled in 35 years. We’ve found that many blacks are in business in our community, but the new generation is following the national trend, they are “making bank” without brick and mortar stores.
This generation has tapped into the digital world and is “Manking Bank” in the challenging business world. We have uncovered investment counselors, Youtube Entrepreneurs, scores of online drop ship companies, website designers, digital instructors, and many others.
They don’t need a brick and mortar store in the Business District. Neither are they confined to Ouachita Parish. One company sells snap-on fingernail designs through a website that delivers the product by FED-EX to a front door. Another sells frozen gumbo, delivered in hot ice chests across the country.
There are many young adult entrepreneurs that are “Making Bank” in Real Estate, and through the management of investment tools, right from their living rooms.
Of course, there are will always be clubs, barbershops, beauty shops, funeral homes, and a few greasy spoons.
However, it appears that the overall model has changed for this generation. Our business community is younger, more tech-savvy and not interested in brick and mortar operations.
What is refreshing is that it has not disappeared, but it is operating on full blast with models that represent the trends appreciated by this generation.
That’s a good thing.