Tampa natives over age 40 might remember the city's Central Avenue as a once booming strip of black-owned businesses that reflected a vibrant and united community.
Corporations like the Afro-American Insurance Company and landmarks such as the Cotton Club and the Jackson House set the standard for entrepreneurial excellence in the last century.
While Tampa no longer has just one neighborhood that replicates Central Avenue, black-owned businesses continue to thrive by representing the essence of the historic district all around the city.
One such success story is epitomized by Candy Lowe's Tea Time.
Lowe, a native of Tampa's Jackson Heights neighborhood, witnessed the energy of Central Avenue and now works to replicate it in Saturday gatherings brought together by conversation and tea.
"I remember the brightness of the night life during the times with my grandparents and the unity of so many black people coming together and supporting one another,'' Lowe says. "At that time, you didn't have to search for the businesses, they were right there in the neighborhood."
Talking Over Tea
Lowe opened her tea shop nearly four years ago in the historic Harbor Club in the Sulphur Springs neighborhood. It has since moved into the Good Luck Cafe on Seventh Avenue in Ybor City, where patrons gather on Saturday mornings at least once a month to talk about everything from personal relationships to business connections.
The gatherings occur when Lowe sends a text to her regulars to announce what time she will hold court and what the topic for discussion that day might be. Usually, about 15-20 people show up, eager to hear Lowe's frank advice but also eager to meet one another and simply have a good time.
It was that need for socialization and camaraderie as well as a desire to honor the historical significance of Central Avenue, particularly among young black entrepreneurs, that prompted Lowe to launch Tampa's Black Business Bus Tours.
The bus tours take a group of 25-50 people around to black-owned businesses once a month. The tour usually makes four stops and enables the bus riders to patronize the businesses.
Lowe later initiated the Independent Black Chamber of Commerce. The IBCC brings like-minded business owners together to share ideas and opportunities.
The chamber also hosts monthly, networking meetings and social gatherings.
Making A Difference
When asked why she decided to get involved in the unification and advancement of Tampa's black-owned businesses, Lowe says, "I don't know if I decided or if it was by default as a first-hand struggling black business owner who repeatedly heard others with the same concerns. I just took a first step to try and make a difference."
Since their inception, the IBCC and the Black Business Bus Tours have offered continuous support to Tampa businesses by educating the community and encouraging others to support black-owned establishments and efforts.
Just as Central Avenue once offered a life balance for its residents by uniting businesses, community spirit and cultural enrichment, Lowe and the younger generation of business and community leaders in the Tampa Bay region are setting examples for achievement and entrepreneurship.
Monthly networking events with the IBCC rotate among various businesses. Bring your business cards to mingle and interact with other entrepreneurs and business executives. For more information, call 813-394-6363.
Keisha Pickett owns Pickett Public Relations Group, a firm specializing in special event, entertainment, lifestyle and nonprofit PR, and an informational website called Black In The Bay. She loves live music and comedy; and enjoys meeting positive, ambitious people. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.