When walking into the New Black Wall Street Market in Stonecrest, Ga., the first thing you can expect is an incredible energy and spirit, said Louis Allen. The next thing you can expect, he said, is a Black identity. The streets are named after iconic Black business owners and entrepreneurs, such as Madame C.J. Walker and A.G. Gaston. The decor and architecture has touches of New Orleans.
“You heard laughter. You saw people smiling. You saw people taking pictures and selfies, seeing the business owners interact with different people. Even the layout for the Black Wall Street is very much conducive to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, where it’s just a celebration,” said Rona Muhammad to The Final Call. She was one of over 10,000 people who attended the market’s soft opening on Oct. 30.
The New Black Wall Street Market reinvigorated an abandoned 125,000 sq. ft. Super Target building. The former Target is now home to the Black-owned shopping venue with over 100 Black- and women-owned businesses.
The market is the brainchild of philanthropist Bill Allen and an extension of the Allen Entrepreneurial Institute, which was created to “increase the size and number of minority and women owned businesses throughout the United States and globally.” It stands in homage to Tulsa, Okla.’s Black Wall Street, which was destroyed by a White mob during the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.
“We always talk about what happened at Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Okla., and one day I got a call. He (Bill Allen) said, ‘We always talk about it, but what are we going to do about it?’” said Louis Allen, a social activist and relative of Bill Allen. “He said, ‘We’re gonna rebuild it.’ ”
Louis Allen has been talking to people throughout the South about rebuilding Black business districts. He recalled words from the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, patriarch of the Nation of Islam, on integration being a hypocritical trick and said integration destroyed Black business infrastructure. Black businesses being in a centralized location increases the traffic count and helps make support easier, he said.
In order to make the market a reality, the Allen family and others who worked on the project had to get through permits, building coding and the hustle and bustle of meeting construction deadlines. The market was originally supposed to open during Labor Day weekend, but Covid-19 delayed plans.
“The whole time everybody’s been working so hard on this, and the spirit and the energy has just been phenomenal during the whole course of this. And what we learned, one of our sayings Down South is, you can’t be a bee without a beehive,” Mr. Allen said. “And so whereas integration scattered all of the bees, or businesses, Mr. Bill Allen and the Allen Entrepreneurial Institute, we built the beehives, and now there are bees, or businesses, coming from everywhere wanting to be a part of the New Black Wall Street Market.”
The New Black Wall Street Market houses a gourmet grocery store, an art gallery, a jazz club, shoe shops, clothing stores, restaurants, a bakery, live entertainment stages and more. There’s a “Big Mama’s porch,” named after Black women who used to be queens of oral history to the family, Mr. Allen said. There’s also a host of young entrepreneurs, one being a teenager who sells ice cream.
Vendor Toni Favors said the soft opening was an opportunity to not only be a merchant, but to experience other Black merchants. She is the founder of Toni’s Spicy Mama, a carrot-based hot sauce company. She said traffic was spread out amongst the businesses and that everyone had an opportunity to sell their products.
“The market means that we can be more self-sufficient, provide custom services, we can provide a great product and we can have our community have viable resources so that they don’t have to venture out to find specific items,” she said.
She described the atmosphere as “electric,” the energy brimming with enthusiasm.
“We need the support of the entire community, the state of Georgia, so that we can expand and provide these opportunities not only in Stonecrest, but they can expand to other areas and empower other entrepreneurs and communities,” she said.
Event planner Othelia Brown from Beaumont, Texas, visited the market on opening day with her cousin John Muhammad. When she went, several businesses weren’t open. Still, she described her experience as amazing and hopes to return next year when everything is completed. She told The Final Call the market means “wealth.”
“It was amazing seeing that our people could come together and bring that together. Just start spending our money on us, keeping our monies within our own communities,” she said.
During the course of 2015, the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam toured the country under the theme “Justice Or Else!” bringing to the forefront Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words on redistributing the pain. He instructed Black people to boycott holiday spending with White-owned businesses and to buy Black. The grand opening for the market is on Black Friday. Organizers have dubbed it the “Blackest Black Friday Ever.” All 100-plus businesses will be up and running.
John Muhammad and Mr. Allen likened the spirit of the soft opening to the Million Man March. John Muhammad said it sets an example of what Black people can do and said many described it as a safe space.
Rona Muhammad, an entrepreneur and mother of two sons, said she had never been to a city with both a high population of Black people and a high population of Black business owners. She moved to Atlanta from the Washington, D.C., area in 2019. Atlanta is 51 percent Black, according to 2019 Census figures, and the Atlanta metropolitan area was rated the fifth best city for Black-owned businesses by the website Overhead on Conference Calls.
Rona Muhammad enjoyed seeing different generations present. “I saw grandmothers and parents and grandchildren coming in. But then also behind the different counters and in the businesses, you see the same lineage,” she said. “You see the grandmothers passing on the knowledge of the businesses to their children and grandchildren and they’re all working together.”
She said the New Black Wall Street Market allows Black people to control their own narrative. “This really destroys the narrative that we are not able to be progressive, viable business owners, that we are not two-parent households, that we don’t respect our grandparents and the people who have come before us,” she said.
Louis Allen said too often, the good things going on in Black America aren’t highlighted.
“Mr. Bill Allen always says that we want to focus more on the solution to the problems than just focusing on what the problems are. So, we believe that creating jobs and creating houses and creating good relationships among our people will solve a lot of the problems in the Black community,” he said.
The New Black Wall Street Market, located at 8109 Mall Parkway, is open for business 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. After the Nov. 26, Black Friday grand opening, store hours will change to Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
For more information on the New Black Wall Street, visit newblackwallstreetmarket.com.