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Elihu Brayboy is a proud son of South St. Petersburg. He and his wife, Carolyn, have taken it upon themselves to rebuild historic buildings along 22nd Street South in Midtown.
In 2014 the Brayboys purchased and renovated their first property, now known as Chief’s Creole Café. With a little assistance from the City of St. Petersburg, the Tampa Bay Black Business Investment Corporation and the Florida Community Loan Fund, the Brayboy family has purchased a number of lots in their old neighborhood and bought five buildings as well.
So far, the Brayboys have invested more than $250,000 of their own money, into fighting blight in a once vibrant neighborhood that was the epicenter of the Black community during the days of segregation. Their latest venture is the refurbishment of the old Ninth Avenue Service Station, located at 2184 Ninth Avenue South, which closed its doors in 2008. Mr. Albert Andrews, known affectionately as “Bubba Newkirk,” owned and operated the shop for over 40 years before his passing in 2007.
“I grew up in Midtown during the 1950s and ’60s, just off 22nd Street South. My mom was a teacher and played the piano at New Hope Baptist Church. My dad was a mortician at Sanchez Funeral Home,” said Elihu Brayboy.
“Back in those days people had a since of community. Mr. Newkirk’s shop was one of the few places we could gather, without fear of being discriminated against. After the crack era the community changed for the worse, and from 1980 to 2012 it became very bleak, and it was hard for businesses to keep their doors open.”
The former IBM and Dean Whitter executives (Carolyn and Elihu, respectively) did not want to buy property and lease them at extremely high rates, they wanted to ensure that their commercial rental units remained affordable for small business owners who were just starting out.
“Now, with the creation of the Southside Community Redevelopment Area, the imminent redevelopment of the Tropicana Field site, and the Warehouse Arts District just a stone’s throw away, there is an incentive to revitalize The Deuces,” Brayboy explained. “I don’t want to see the place I have called home my entire life become gentrified by money-hungry developers. Natives should not be pushed out of their homes because they can no longer afford to live there or operate a business there. All people, regardless of race, deserve to live, work, and play in a vibrantly healthy community.”
The Brayboys purchased the Newkirk building “as is” for $50,000. They have already spent $193,000 on renovating the building to its original condition. Along with the installation of a new HVAC system, double French doors, a new roof line, framing and updated electrical wiring, the building takes the term “mixed-use” to a whole new level.
The 1,900 sq. ft. commercial space has been divided into three separate affordable units, each providing tenants and their customers with their own unique experience. One unit has already been leased to an up and coming local female photographer.
“In addition to providing low-cost commercial rental space for business owners, we also want to feed the surrounding community, said Carolyn Brayboy, while pointing to her garden overflowing with freshly ripe collard greens. “Midtown is a food desert, and the nearest grocery store is over a mile away. We plan to expand our community garden and making it something that people can be proud of … If they are proud of it, they will want to maintain it.
“This garden has become my baby. I can’t wait to see children working and playing with their parents in the garden. I look forward to offering nutrition and wellness classes here for families,” she added.
“I want to see seniors get excited about eating what they’ve grown. The only way we can do that is by investing. We have to stop waiting for someone else to come into our community to fix what’s broken. We must take responsibility, get up, and fix it ourselves.”
Mr. Brayboy does not want people to associate success with escaping life’s problems, and he tries to model this in his own life.
“Too often our solution to the problem is ‘I’m going to make money and leave the rest of these folks behind to fend for themselves,” he said. “Very rarely is the intent to get rich and come back home, to make your city a safer and better place for generations to come. It’s a lofty goal, but my mission in life is to make St. Petersburg a place we can all be proud to call home.”