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franklin county times

Rebuilding the past

By Staff
HISTORIC BUSINESS DISTRICT The warped screen door of Margie's Variety Shop stands partially open next to Brown's Artistic Barber Shop on this stretch of Fifth Street in downtown Meridian. Both businesses, which haven't been open for years, highlight the state of the African American Historic Business District. Photo by Kyle Carter / The Meridian Star
By Fredie Carmichael / staff writer
Oct. 24, 2004
Two dim, fluorescent lights shined on Kevin Lewis as the second generation barber snatched a mirror from a cluttered counter and gave it to his customer so he could inspect his cut.
Across the room, two new customers entered through a screen door that squeaked loud enough to drown the sound of a loud fan. A handful of other customers slouched in old chairs along the side wall.
Life is simple at Jenkins Barber Shop, where longtime regulars wait for a $10 haircut or just sit around and talk for hours. It's also an anomaly a thriving business in a dead district.
The shop, on Fifth Street between 24th and 25th avenues, is one of the few businesses that anchor what was once a booming area of Meridian that catered primarily to black customers.
Revitalization efforts
Today, more than 30 years after the heyday of the retail area, city officials and business owners hope to revive what they now call Meridian's African American Historic Business District.
They hope to join other cities across the South that have tried to revitalize historically black areas including Beale Street in downtown Memphis and Farish Street in downtown Jackson.
Meridian, itself, already is in the midst of a major downtown rebuilding effort anchored by the restoration of the Grand Opera House on Fifth Street one block away from the African-American district.
A 10-story crane now sits outside the opera house as workers continue the restoration. When finished, the opera house and Marks-Rothenberg building will become the Riley Education and Performing Arts Center.
In the African-American district bordered by Sixth Street on the north, Fourth Street on the south, 23rd Avenue of the east and 26th Avenue on the west restoration efforts likely are months away.
All that's left now are a few businesses and memories of such black-owned establishments as Henderson's Drug Store, High Tower Hotel &Grill, Beale's Cafe, Calmese Beauty Shop, the E.F. Young Hotel and others.

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