Friday, July 8, 2011
Farish Street regained its critical connection to Amite Street last week, providing a small boost to ailing businesses in the historic district.
Watkins Development, LLC, the company renovating the district into a Memphis Beale Street-style resort area, closed off the street from its Amite Street intersection almost two years ago, which caused inconvenience to pedestrian and drove away lunch customers.
"We (opened) it last Friday," Watkins said. "The mayor asked us if we could speed up the process. We had to repair the street--that was the biggest problem, and we had to buy another $15,000 worth of fencing that we had to put up, but we got it open."
The developer had to dismantle some portions of the scenic brick-lain street early in construction to reset underground water and sewer connections, as well as some gas lines. The resulting mess littered the area with what Watkins described as "2-foot-by-2-foot potholes," which posed dangers to drivers and pedestrians and a liability to Watkins.
Roderick Ephram, who runs Peaches' Cafe with his mother and company owner Willora Ephram, said he noticed a slight uptick in business last week when the street re-opened.
"When business slowed down the last three years, (Willora) only came to work twice a week. Now, since the buzz has come back to Farish Street, she comes three or four times a week. ... She's in her 80s and she spent over half her life on this street, and for her to see it transform back to how it was in the 1950s--it would be amazing to her to see the customers come back."
Farish Street was a boom-town for black professionals in Jim Crow-era Mississippi, but decayed with the end of state-sanctioned segregation as residents moved into formerly off-limit "white" areas of the city. The area suffered an economic depression for the last 30 years, but the recent Amite Street closure caused even more problems for the remaining businesses that had weathered the economic downturn. The downtown lunch crowd, owners say, expect nothing less than complete convenience when it comes to their lunch hour.
"If people are used to coming, they keep coming, but after two years they haven't been able to come," Big Apple Inn owner Geno Lee said. "Before, they had to go down Hamilton Street. It was a mess on Griffith Street, so the easiest way was to come down Mill Street and Hamilton or Lamar Street to Hamilton--which was a problem because Lamar is a one-way street."
The business increase has been dramatic. However Ephram said he was thankful to see signs of construction on the street.
"It's the closest I've ever seen to Farish Street being complete," Ephram said. "I see plumbing going into the buildings, I see paint, and I see structures going inside of buildings. They've done the roofs, and I see electric work going in."
Watkins said he had not expected to finish the street until construction was complete on the Farish Street Entertainment District. The premature finishing of the street means he may have to refinish it a second time if continuing construction makes a new mess of the road.
Watkins warned that the street may have to temporarily close again to make way for heavy equipment work, but said that any future closure would likely be short-lived.
Great short documentary on Peaches' Cafe and Willora Ephram. http://www.vimeo.com/13050971
- chandler griffin
Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.
Sign in to comment
Or login with: