By Natalie Prioleau
The sun sets, casting shadows on boarded, empty and abandoned buildings in the North area of Charleston. Passersby can witness large vacant spaces throughout the intersections of Rivers Avenue and McMillan Avenue and Rivers and Reynolds Avenue. The scene is all that’s left of a previously thriving commercial shopping center and strip that once brought so many consumers to the Chicora-Cherokee area, it was nicknamed the “Money Macon” by its residents. The “Money Macon” has been non-existent since its naval base closed in 1996, causing thousands of people to lose their jobs and relocate their families. Multiple businesses also shut down due to the major loss of customers and tourists that once frequented the area. Since then, several unsuccessful attempts have been made to revitalize Chicora economically, however, two local non-profits, Metanoia and Lowcountry Local First have created a project that could prove to be what community needs.
Metanoia, under the direction of CEO Bill Stanfield and his wife, has been investing in the revitalization of Chicora for the past fourteen years. Since its conception, Metanoia has realized initiatives set by the community and has earned the trust of many residents. Although the organization has already affected community-driven change within the area, creating a competitive and healthy economy has remained a challenge. This is one of the reasons for Metanoia’s partnership with Lowcountry Local First. Lowcountry Local First works to expand local business ownership and encourage residents to buy locally in order to strengthen the economy. Together, these organizations are striving to restore Chicora’s economy using the Reynolds Avenue Community Storefront Project, a competition.
Jamee Haley, Executive Director at Lowcountry Local First explains, “I got the idea for the storefront project from a model I had seen up north. I realized that they had the same goal that we have, which is to build on the community’s assets.” Specifically, the Reynolds Avenue Community Storefront Project is designed to use the input, knowledge and skill sets of the Chicora-Cherokee residents in order to start a business that will either provide a service that the community lacks or generate multiple jobs within the area. Haley continues, “We’re open-minded about the type of business that the applicants want to provide here, we really want to see a business that will add to the community and not extract from it.” Bill Stanfield adds, “We want to see business owners who look like the people in the community.”
To enter the competition, aspiring entrepreneurs must submit an application and a detailed business plan by October 31st, 2017 (deadline has been extended to November 15th). Applications can be submitted online at https://lowcountrylocalfirst.org/reynolds/, or received at the Metanoia or Lowcountry Local First offices. Lowcountry Local First will provide the initial start up costs, utility costs and mentorship support. Metanoia will assist with the layout of the building once the business plan has been reviewed. The chosen applicant will move into the building space in March of 2018. Although the opportunity is an exciting one, and applications have been received there doesn’t seem to be much feedback throughout North Charleston yet. As a community that houses a significant amount of minorities and impoverished children, it is essential that the voices of Chicora’s residents are heard and that they are participants in deciding the future of their community.
Steve Eddie, Elder at Emmanuel Baptist Church on Reynolds Avenue shares these sentiments. He asserts that there needs to be even more effort to include people like himself and members from his church in the community’s decision making processes. While Eddie was unable to attend the organizations’ information session at The Macon Café last month, he shares what he thinks of the project with The Chronicle. Eddie shares, “ It’s time for the Macon to get back to the Macon of Old. The area needs a supermarket back, other stores need to be put back in this area with products for reasonable prices.” Overall, Eddie emphasizes the importance of including the residence in all decision making and activities, which is the common goal of both Metanoia and Lowcountry Local First. The organizations have an immensely ambitious and daunting task ahead of them, however with the track records, support and participation from the community, they just might accomplish the difficult feat.