NEW BERN, N.C. — In the mid-1900s, a certain stretch of Broad Street in downtown New Bern was filled with thriving black-owned businesses. U.S. 70 ran straight through the area historically known as Five Points.
Clarence Monroe says his father was one of the first African-American residents in the area. He remembers what it was like to live there back then.
“We had businesses to aid the community: food, clothing, legal. Everything was right here in Five Points. We had our home,” Monroe says.
However, over time, the main roads changed, money ran out, and businesses moved—leaving Broad Street almost empty. Monroe's brother, Corey Purdie, wants to change that.
“A lot of things died down, a lot of businesses left the area or were afraid to put their businesses in the area. Not because of the violence or anything like that, but because of the lack of traffic and the lack of support from the city in building up and beautifying the area,” Purdie says.
Purdie started the Black Broad Street Business Association in 2010 to try to rebuild this area. He teamed up with Ryan Ray, founder of Triangle Entrepreneurial Leadership, to empower and educate the community in order to to set up sustainable Black businesses. Ray founded TEL in 2015. The company is based out of Raleigh but works with entrepreneurs in rural areas all across North Carolina.
“Part of the vision for that area is to attract those entrepreneurs who may have gotten off to a good start and have a good idea, but they're stuck,” Ray says. “They don't have the tools, the resources, the network to grow and then sustain their businesses.”
To get the word out, Purdie and Ray set up entrepreneurial events on Broad Street to bring in new customers and help encourage people to choose this area for their businesses.
“We consider ourselves blessed to be in a position where we can be a blessing to other people," Ray says.
There are currently seven brick and mortar businesses and four that are being renovated. The newest business on the block is a restaurant called Sampson & Son. Elton Sampson has lived in the area his whole life.
“I remember when I was a little boy, nothing but Black businesses were on this stretch all the way down Broad Street, back in the days, you know what I mean. And I said, 'man, we gotta build this back up,'” Sampson says.
He can list almost every business that used to be here, and now he gets to add his very own restaurant to the list. Sampson started selling food out of the back of his car, but with the encouragement and motivation of the community around him, he and his son, Blue, have made it to the next step.
"I'm so humbled for [them] giving me this chance and opening this business for something we can have in our neighborhood to help our people. And it's just such a blessing,” Sampson says.
He says it was sad to watch the old businesses run out of money and the area go into decline, but he hopes that the work the Black Broad Street Business Association is doing will build the area back up.
“I like to see it keep growing,” Sampson says. “Anyone who's trying to put a business in this area, more power to them.”
The city recognized that while the rest of New Bern had grown in population, Broad Street and the historic Five Points area had not. In response, it has done several things to help. The city received a Choice Neighborhoods Initiative Grant five years ago to work on an economic development plan. The plan focuses on livability, jobs, quality of life, amenities, and more.
The vibrant commercial atmosphere of Five Points was originally interrupted in the 1900s when Broad Street was turned into a five lane highway. About ten years ago, the city of New Bern reinstated the median with trees, better lighting and parking to make it more business friendly.
“We really want to see more businesses. We want to see those empty storefronts--we want to see businesses get in there. As this region and this area and our downtown grows, we feel it will be a natural extension to connect what has historically been downtown New Bern with what has historically been uptown New Bern.”
Businesses can also apply for a property enhancement grant to help offset costs for facade, landscaping, or signage improvements.