Harry and Corine Bradley opened their namesake store in Overtown almost 50 years ago, selling groceries alongside Corine’s famous country-fried chicken. For decades, Corine’s homemade meals drew customers from across the city and sold out each day.
Harry died nearly 10 years ago, Corine stopped cooking, and the apartment buildings across the street were torn down, leaving empty lots where many of the store's customers once lived. Through it all, Bradley’s Market has kept running out of its small, blue and orange building at 1139 Northwest Second Avenue.
But in September, the city suddenly declared the store a nuisance, citing drug deals made nearby. And the Nuisance Abatement Board made a long series of demands, including one that struck Corine as beyond strange: To get back in good standing, she needed to install 24/7 security cameras that would allow police constant live-feed access to the store.
The board also required Corine give police the power to remove people from her property. Officers quickly made a list of people the police department had decided were banned from Bradley's and began arresting people for trespassing, though Corine says they were just shopping.
“Where is that law written?” she asks.
Bradley is now suing the city in federal court, alleging that the police's demands are unconstitutional. Her attorney alleges that city officials have been making similar demands of other longtime markets in Overtown.
“We have a Constitution for a reason,” says Hilton Napoleon II, her attorney. “It’s to prevent the government from overreach.”
In Miami's oldest black neighborhood, where developers have been snapping up land for redevelopment, some residents suspect the city is pushing gentrification by forcing out Bradley’s Market and other local businesses to make room for high-priced projects. “Somebody with some big money want that place,” says one longtime shopper at Bradley's, who declined to give his name.
A spokesperson for the city promised to look into the allegations, but hasn't responded to questions from New Times about Bradley's lawsuit, or whether other Overtown markets have been required to give police full access to security cameras and the power to ban customers.
In its 47 years in business, Bradley’s Market has never had problems with the city, says Corine Bradley, who moved from South Carolina to Overtown in the early 1960s, when the historically African-American enclave was still frequented by movie stars and musicians. “We were really jumping,” Corine recalls.
Soon she met Harry, another South Carolina native, and the two married and managed apartment buildings in Overtown before opening their first store in 1968. A year later, they moved to the building on Northwest Second Avenue, knocking down the walls between the grocery, fish market, and wash house that occupied the building before.
Corine Bradley cooked chicken and yellow rice at home and brought it to the store, where customers lined up for a plate. “The smell would come all the way around the corner so they know I’m there,” she says, adding that people drove from Coconut Grove and North Miami for her food.
Yet the city has never seemed keen on the locally owned and operated shop. Back in 1999, Corine and her husband were denied city revitalization dollars despite her long standing in Overtown, money that could have helped fix roof and electrical problems at the shop. "I really need some help," Corine Bradley told New Times at the time. "Because for 30 years I was here and no one come to give me one dime."
In 2008, Harry got sick and Corine retired. Today, the store is mostly run by their son, Bernard.
The first sign of trouble came over the summer, when Bradley applied for a grant from the city — which she hoped to use to fix up the shop, repair the A/C, and buy new refrigerators — and was rejected. That’s when she first heard a nuisance complaint had been filed against her store.
Bradley says when the board first cited her store with a variety of issues last fall, she complied with almost all of the requests. She installed new lights, posted “No trespassing” signs, and removed debris from the sidewalk.
But she drew the line at the demand that police be allowed to remotely spy on her store through a security system. Instead, she put up private security cameras that she can monitor.
In their order declaring Bradley’s Market a nuisance, officials wrote that between April and June, the property was used as a site for selling drugs on at least nine occasions. But Napoleon says none of the transactions happened inside the store; the majority were on the public sidewalk out front.
“If the Miami Police Department can’t stop it, if the federal government can’t stop it, how is Ms. Bradley supposed to?” he asks of drug use.
Like others, he's suspicious of the timing. "In 47 years, Ms. Bradley never had any problems. Now all the sudden when there's development in the Overtown area she's getting all of these requests. I think it speaks for itself," Napolean says.
Almost all of the drug cases have been thrown out by the State Attorney’s Office. Meanwhile, each month the Nuisance Abatement Board levies more fines against Bradley’s Market. On Wednesday, board members voted yet again to fine the store $1,000 — $500 for refusing to install cameras the police can monitor, and $500 because officers said they had to remove loiterers.
In city hearings since September, she and her attorney have argued that surveillance cameras monitored by police represent an unconstitutional search and seizure. Their arguments have so far fallen on deaf ears at city hall, though. So last week, the pair filed the federal lawsuit, alleging violations of Corine's fourth amendment right to privacy.
In the meantime, Bradley says the constant police presence at her store has scared away customers. One was arrested for trespassing immediately after walking through the door, Napoleon says. Others have been banned by police from ever coming in.
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“No one would ever contemplate doing something like that to Publix,” he says.
Bradley, who’s known many of the regulars since they were born, has been both angered and stressed by the city's demands.
“Everything I do, it’s not enough,” she says. “They come back with something else.”