When Mayor Bill Euille was first elected to the City Council in 1994, he and incoming Councilwoman Lois Walker wanted to improve the Queen Street corridor. Sandwiched between the shops and King Street and a cluster of public-housing units toward the Braddock Street Metro station, the Queen Street area had long been perceived as an area of persistent crime and lingering problems.
“We wanted to call it the Queen Street Renaissance, but it just never got off the ground,” Euille said. “So much for the renaissance.”
But now, a group of business owners in the area are uniting to form a new group: the Queen Street Area Business Association. The group hopes to foment its own renaissance, increasing communication between business owners and improving the general atmosphere of the historically black neighborhood that includes the Parker Gray Historic District.
“We have a vision to improve Queen Street,” said Wilson Thompson, who has owned a financial services business in the area since 1997. “We want to make business better, and we want to make the community better.”
Thompson said that the association already has 10 members, and it hopes to add more in the coming days. One of the main goals is for Queen Street business to interact with each other, using local services to improve the neighborhood’s economy. Eventually, Thompson said, he’d like to see the organization branch out into improving safety and offering educational opportunities.
“Our first priority is to add new members. Then we want to put together a newsletter,” Thompson said. “Anytime there is economic development, it drives out crime because citizens become more concerned about their community.”
For James Bock, vice president of the Queen Street Area Business Association, reducing crime in the area is a difficult but important goal. He said that vigilance will be necessary to make people feel safe walking the streets, and he says that the association wants to do everything in its power to work toward change.
“Crime is an obstacle that we are going to have to overcome,” said Bock, who is assistant pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church. “We want to implement a neighborhood watch program and foster continuous patrolling by police.”
PARKING IS ANOTHER major issue that the association wants to tackle. For residents and businesses along the Queen Street corridor, Sunday mornings are a time of frayed nerves and hard feelings. Bock said that during the Sunday morning rush, when several churches have overflowing parking lots, neighborhood residents and businesses are often pushed out of their spaces.
“We want to bring homeowners together with the church leaders to have a dialogue,” Bock said. “And we’d like the city to help us bring these parties together and find some solutions to this problem.”
Eventually, Bock said, the association could offer a host of educational opportunities. He said that he would like to see the organization put together a job fair to help unemployed residents find work and a job-training program to help low-income residents. Keith Calhoun, treasurer of the Queen Street Area Business Association, agrees that the new group could use a diverse set of tools to bring new life to the area.
“I’d like to see us working closely with the Boys and Girls Club,” Calhoun said. “We need to show these kids that there are opportunities out there.”
Calhoun said that the first goal of the new association would be to increase communication between Queen Street businesses and encouraging these businesses to do business with each other. He said that the rising tide of prosperity in the neighborhood could have a cascading effect that would help all the association’s members.
“Of course, I’d like to see us all successful,” Calhoun said. “And I think it’s possible for each of us to help the others grow.”