Fifty years ago most African American neighborhoods were virtual cities within a city. Residents were able to live, work, pray and play within their own communities. Major street corners were alive with a variety of service and retail businesses, with cafes and restaurants mixed in. Local youth found work and learned valuable lessons from caring owners who became role models and provided a stabilizing influence to these communities.
Beginning in the early 60’s as residents increasingly migrated to the suburbs, much of the commerce supporting the population followed, leaving the remaining residents few neighborhood shopping or business service options. This out-migration created a lack of economic investment resulting in fewer jobs, fewer neighborhood role models and less tax revenues. With each business closing the situation worsened.
The founder of the Habitat for Neighborhood Business® (HNB)* Douglas Brown, initially observed the near absence of businesses in economically challenged neighborhoods when visiting cities throughout the country in his years with Enterprise Rent-a-Car®. With assistance and collaboration from Saint Louis University, Doug spent two years meeting with people in area neighborhoods in need of renewal, while at the same time confirming similar conditions in other cities. Armed with this information, support from the Business School at Saint Louis University, and a conviction that something must be done Doug gathered friends, a handful of SLU alumni, and others of like mind and with significant skill and patience launched HNB.
Today many civic, charitable, and religious organizations are working with residents and government agencies to restore vitality to the housing within these neighborhoods. Habitat for Neighborhood Business believes that retail and service businesses is a critical missing element that must return, become more robust and play an increasing role in each neighborhood. It is this focus that drives us to become that support and guidance for these neighborhoods and the entrepreneurs who will be the role models today’s youth will learn to respect and emulate.
These neighborhoods and today’s children are our future!
*Also known as Habitat for Business®