Black Businesses

How the Lights Go Out in Greenwood

By Nehemiah Frank

On Halloween night in 2003, Dewey Morrow stepped out on faith, packed his truck, and left his home in Nebraska for his longtime dream of opening a business on America’s famed Black Wall Street located just north of the railroad tracks from downtown Tulsa, Okla.

Morrow saved up enough money to open D&F Mini-Mart at 104 N. Greenwood Ave., placing his stamp on African-American History. Ownership of a business in America’s official and original Black Wall Street District was a black man’s dream come true.

After the ashes of the 1921 Massacre had settled, the district experienced a period of renaissance, which was followed by an economic decline caused by desegregation and gentrification. But business owners were resilient in the face of these obstacles, and decedents of the massacre rebuilt a piece of their legacy and reopened The Greenwood District 1985.

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Dewey Morrow at D&F Mini-Mart, Saturday, April 22, 2017. –Darrell Mercer

Morrow came to Greenwood for the heritage and the history, stating in a 2015 interview with the Tulsa World, “I wanted to be part of the rebirth.” That dream will end on Sunday, April 30, 2017 because of unrealistic demands by the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce D&F Mini-Mart will close its doors after serving Tulsa’s black community for 14 years.

With only a month’s notice the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce demanded an extra $479.93 monthly, starting May 1, 2017. Despite the increase in rent, store fixtures and utility services are in dire need of replacement and repair; there has never been running water in D&F Mini-Mart, and the blinds have never been replaced.

Dewey said the Chamber promised to replace the carpet in 2003 and that they would have plumbing repaired so the business could have running water. Neither has occurred in 14 years, despite the Chamber’s continued increased in rent.

When D&F first opened in 2003, Morrow’s rent was around $400.  Rent has steadily increased over the years, but increases jumped higher under the current Chamber. Since opening, rent for the storefront has risen by 200%, from 2003 to 2017. Starting next month, the Chamber is demanding he pay $1,200 for rent on a very small property without running water.

The Chamber told Morrow that he would need to pay for the replacement of the light fixtures and other items on the property. The Chamber even encouraged Dewey to take out a loan to pay for renovations to their property. In order to make renovation he would not only need to get a loan, but he would also have to close his business, loosing his income, while still being expected to pay $1,200 monthly.

After D&F Mini-Mart closes, there will be no convenience stores on the Black Wall Street.

Morrow’s business has the only ATM in Greenwood, which is frequented by patrons of Blow Out Hair Studio and Tee’s Barber Shop, because for beauty salons and barber shops cash is king. The nearest ATM will be a corporately-controlled Arvest ATM at ONEOK Field, which seems to mirror the Chamber’s plans for Greenwood: Force black-owned businesses to close by making it difficult for them to operate while supporting corporate interests and development.

The Greenwood Chamber’s decisions continue to adversely impact the black-owned businesses, causing the devaluation of the “Black Dollar,” which famously used to circulate 50 times before leaving the community. Now, even if people shop at the few remaining black-owned businesses on Greenwood, dollars spent on Black Wall Street won’t originate with a local black-owned business.

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D&F Mini-Mart has the only ATM on the Black Wall Street. -Darrell Mercer

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