By Kofi Quaye –
For decades, the huge old buildings just sat there, unoccupied, scarred by age, the elements, and lack of use.
They were easy to spot, as a result of their prominent locations, and the fact that they had been cited by community residents, politicians and activists looking for evidence of neighborhood decline, as classic examples of what has gone wrong with the city’s neighborhoods.
For years, the building that once housed the NAPA automotive store on the south side occupied almost half a block of Ballantyne Rd. and South Salina St.
I recall shopping for auto parts there many years ago, before AUTOZONE and ADVANCED AUTO moved into the area.
However, after NAPA left, the only business activity that went on in the building was at the tire repair shop, which was located at the far end of the property’s parking lot.
Still, in spite of the main building being vacant, Rick’s Tires continued to operate as the only community-based and black-owned tire repair service on that side of town for years.
Whether NAPA went out of business, relocated, or was simply forced out by competition is still a mystery.
Regardless, the building remained vacant, until mid-2016, when a new Family Dollar sign showed up, and the new store’s construction began.
Within months, the building had been transformed into a brand-new FAMILY DOLLAR store, and the new store was up and running.
However, for most south side residents, it was a double-edged sword; it had been another outlet to buy low-priced merchandise in the neighborhood, but the only tire repair service also had to close.
In addition, the three-bay mechanic’s garage on the corner of S. Salina and Brighton Store had also been vacant for decades.
Like the others, the building had all the signs of not being actively used, but still retained a somewhat clean exterior, alerting neighborhood residents to the fact that it had not been totally abandoned.
Several community-based entrepreneurs also made offers to buy the property.
However, the owner had refused to sell.
I know personally an African taxi and transportation owner who tried to buy the property. He wanted to convert it into a taxi station.
Another entrepreneur also offered to buy it, with the intention of reopening it as an auto garage.
He didn’t succeed either.
In the end, the building stayed closed, until another Family Dollar sign went up several months ago and, once again, construction on a new dollar store began.
I have already written about the change the new Price Rite on the corner of South Ave. and Bellevue has brought to the south side, in terms of providing a much-needed supermarket in the neighborhood, and making the neighborhood look cleaner, busier, and revitalized.
However, the Family Dollar franchise is the major player in the low-priced merchandising business in Syracuse.
They have opened two brand-new locations within one year on the south side, and both stores have appeared to be quite busy.
This comes as no surprise, considering the fact that they are all located in one of the most densely-populated areas of the city.
And, the opening of the new supermarket and dollar stores have also appeared to be key indicators of a potential new surge of economic growth on the south side.
It could be argued though, that they don’t exactly meet the criteria of community-owned-and-operated businesses.
They are highly-successful, franchised businesses for sure, but they are only based in the community, they are not owned, operated, and managed by community people.
However, the Family Dollar business model has proven to be immensely successful all over the country, so they are likely to continue to flourish.
But, they are not new businesses, most importantly, and they are certainly different in their structure and approach to business, which is unlike the types of mom-and-pop stores that are usually operated by black community business owners.
For me, the questions that come to mind are: why are we not able to create and sustain businesses of similar size and constitution in our own neighborhoods? Are we only comfortable with franchised businesses that are owned by corporate giants, which have no connection to the community?
Will black participation be limited to small-time, non-managerial positions, and not high-paying corporate positions that will make it possible to advocate for better pay and benefits for workers?
Also, can the city negotiate so black ownership can be part of the total package?
And, are these new businesses displacing black entrepreneurs?
I am not sure I have all the answers.
But, it would make sense for anyone who subscribes to the notion that the black community has continued to be exploited by non-community-owned businesses, to question the motives of big corporations.
Apparently, they have had no problem securing the financing to open more stores, which means they could also do a lot more in these neighborhoods, if they wanted.
Hopefully, I am not the only one who wonders what the new, franchised businesses sprouting up in our neighborhoods will mean to the black community in terms of our ability to create, sustain, and manage successful businesses.