Less for Moore

Times are tough for grocer Lawrence Moore and his Overtown neighbors. Will the county help out? No way.

On the way out the man offers a cryptic complaint. "I goes up and the price goes down. I go down and the price go up. What the hell." Then he repeats the same sentences in reverse order and smiles, proud of his poetry.

The Moores just shrug when asked to comment on the county's motivation for turning down their grant request this past October. But, standing in an aisle next to the Pringles potato chips, a man with the physique of a fullback is more effusive. "What about these businesses, man?" he questions. "There should be some kind of consideration for helping them.... When they move the people, the businesses is going to die. Once they die, that's it, man." He gestures toward the street. "There are three apartment buildings down here condemned. They done moved all the people out. That's [Lawrence's] income. How he going to survive when they moving all his income from around here? And you can't blame all of it on the tenants. You have to blame it on the landlords, too, who didn't took care of the stuff and who the county loaned money to buy the doggone places."

The speaker is Leroy Jones, the 37-year-old convicted drug trafficker turned community activist who last year won a Miami-Dade medal of merit. Jones is executive director of the Neighbors and Neighbors Association, a nonprofit organization of small businesses primarily in Overtown and Liberty City. He is also the man who convinced the Moores and other owners of small stores to apply for the county grants. Jones thinks the county's rejection of the Overtown grocers' applications smacks of corporate welfare. "The government gives big businesses money to move into inner-city places like Overtown and Model City and Little Haiti. They actually give them tax breaks and incentives and all types of funding to help them cut down their cost to relocate here," Jones says. "But what about the businesses that nobody had to pay to come here, that have been here struggling, year after year, investing their money back into this area, into their businesses, trying to make things better? They've never been to the government crying and begging, but they need help now. They are dying."

Small-business dynamo Leroy Jones watches federal development dollars go everywhere but Overtown
Small-business dynamo Leroy Jones watches federal development dollars go everywhere but Overtown

Unfortunately the Moores are in good company in Overtown. Two other small, black-owned markets that have survived for decades were also denied county revitalization grants. Both are called Bradleys'.

At the first store, a few blocks from the Moores' place, Elizabeth and Henry Bradley are eking out a living, mainly from milk and juice sales. Their rejection by the county is particularly confounding because they have been located on the historic Third Avenue business corridor for 30 years. (The Miami commission designated the strip as a priority for commercial redevelopment in 1998.)

The once-illuminated sign protruding from the Bradleys' façade at Fourteenth Street and Third Avenue is broken and illegible. Inside, the shelf space is mostly empty. Seated on a stool behind an ancient check-out counter, Elizabeth Bradley is upset about the county's denial of her application. "I was surprised," the voluble 56-year-old begins, "because you know why? We've been here more than twenty years. [Officials] from the City of Miami, they always come over here, and they always say we should fill out the information to get money to help the business. Okay. I'm saying that they've waited until the business went completely down, and they're still not giving us nothing. And we're just trying to hold on so that we'll be able to get something."

Henry, age 60, emphasizes that the couple is not accustomed to handouts. "We was here all those years and never got a dime!" he declares.

In one way the Bradleys are in an even tighter spot than the Moores: They do not own the building their store occupies. They lease it for $400 per month.

"See what happens?" Elizabeth says, preparing to share an example that illustrates the Bradleys' plight. "Like we have a sausage machine. As soon as something go out we cannot put it back because we don't have enough money to put it back. We've got to try to keep the lights on. We got to try to pay rent. We got to pay these things before we can do something else. We used to sell sausage and hot dogs and all these things. These things can make money, and we need something to make money with."

A few blocks south, at 1141 NW Second Ave., Henry's brother Harry and his wife Corine run another grocery store. One of four children, Corine grew up in rural South Carolina. She never knew her father; her mother worked on a farm for a while before resorting to a life on public assistance. Corine says she was determined to avoid the welfare rolls. After moving to Miami in the Sixties, she met Harry, also a South Carolinian, and the two managed an apartment complex on NW Fourteenth Street near First Avenue for several years. In 1968 they opened the grocery store; a year later they moved the operation to its current location, a small beige masonry-and-wood building, which they own.

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