Preservation group saves piece of African American history in Charlotte

Historically black grocery store to be preserved

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - A small brick Washington Heights building may be empty now, but holds a lot of history.

"It was an African American grocery store and at a time where African Americans didn't have much, or were allowed to go where predominately white customers were able to shop," Costello Commercial Investment Advisor Dwayne Heigh says.

When Heigh decided to take on the project, he and the seller both knew they would lose out on any big pay day from the investment.

"To know that we had something within the community to drive us all together, that was just historic for me," Heigh says.

He and his client declined higher offers from buyers wanting to tear down the small white building, which sits in front of a home on Booker Avenue.

"If the property's been vacant over a year, unfortunately it has to be demolished or preserved as a historic site," Heigh says.

Then entered Preserve Mecklenburg, and co-founder Dan Morrill, digging up the history of the near-100-year-old building, which was originally Patterson’s Grocery. His group offered far less money for the property than others, but promised to preserve it.

"In the days of racial segregation, the days of Jim Crow, one of the areas African Americans could be entrepreneurs was to own grocery stores," Morrill says. "And there used to be neighborhood grocery stores all over Charlotte. We know there were more than 40, and they're almost all gone."

Morrill says the store was built in the 1920′s, changing hands and names but remaining a community hub, until the 90′s.

"It teaches us about what neighborhoods were like, what African American entrepreneurship was like," he says. "These places were more than just a place to go to the grocery store. They were social places."

For Morrill, it is all about hanging onto a visual reminder of what once was, in this community.

"It's what we see, we are primarily visual creatures, and what we see is so important," he says. "It's like these murals being painted Uptown, the visual is so important, in symbolizing the past. So when it's gone, it's gone."

The future for the property is unknown. It cannot be a grocery store again, but it will not be torn down.

“To know this building is still here, at this time and this year, it’s just so impactful,” Heigh says.

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