Monday, Apr. 18, 1938

Business in Bronzeville

Although Chicago has 100,000 fewer Negroes than New York, it is the centre of U. S. Negro business; last census figures showed Chicago's Negro establishments had annual net sales of $4,826,897, New York's were only $3,322,274. Chicago's Negroes all hail from the South, work generally as laborers in packing plants and steel mills, have a community feeling; New York's are less homogenous, work mostly in hotels and apartments. Great majority of Chicago's Negroes live in a south side section known as Bronzeville. Here the principal shopping districts are on 43rd, 47th, sist and syth Streets. Virtually all of this property belongs to whites, most of them Jews, and they make it tough for Negroes to go into business in these prize areas. Leases generally have clauses forbidding Negro tenants; and if a Negro manages to wangle a lease anyway, he is apt to find his rent tripled when the lease comes up for renewal.

When the Jones Brothers started the world's only Negro-owned department store they had to buy the property to get onto 47th Street. When dapper little Frank Howell Jr. started Mae's Dress Shoppe, he was forced to pay six-and-a-half months' rent in advance. This smoldered in Negro Howell's breast and continued to as he prospered. After Marva Trotter, fiancée of Prizefighter Joe Louis, bought her trousseau from Frank Howell, four other Mae's Dress Shoppes were started by rivals eager to cash in on the publicity; but Frank Howell's Original Mae's Dress Shoppe is today the biggest and most fashionable in Bronzeville.

Now something of a tycoon, Frank Howell decided to organize other Bronzeville bigwigs, hold a two-day Exposition of Negro Business for the double purpose of spurring Negro business and arranging a program to fight "fleecing" by whites. So last week to the shabby 8th Regiment Armory trooped no less than 110,000 Negroes to watch fashion shows, finger fancy caskets, see demonstrations of pressing the kink out of Negro hair, listen to church choirs and hot bands, munch free handouts or purchase raffle tickets from the 75 booths. No Negro gathering is complete without Joe Louis and he was on hand opening day to cut a ribbon across the door. As usual he was surrounded with admiring pickaninnies who well know his bodyguard's penchant of giving dollar bills to moppets so they will leave Joe alone. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,759569,00.html


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