The Claxton, Georgia native came to Miami in 1963. He soon landed a job as a maintenance worker at the Fontainebleau in Miami Beach. Three years later, he took a gig fixing car bumpers at an auto body shop near Overtown. Around the same time, he met Jacqueline, then a 17-year-old girl who lived with her family in a wood-frame house on 67th Street. The two fell in love and married in 1967.
Five years later, the couple decided to open a business. "My wife's uncle had a grocery store," he says. "She had worked there, so she had the knowledge." They came across an empty storefront at 7002 NW 15th Ave. "It had been closed for years," he recalls. "The old lady who owned it lived upstairs. She rented the space to us for $270 a month. My wife and I lived our lives in here. We still do."
The Brewtons had hoped their oldest son, Robert, would take over the family business. But he was killed four days before graduating with a degree in business administration from Bethune Cookman University in Daytona Beach 18 years ago. Clarence doesn't like to talk about how his son died. "The plan was to let him take over the family business," he says. The couple has one other child, a daughter who was a juvenile corrections officer before going to work for the FBI.
During the '80s, life on 15th Avenue took a turn for the worse. First in 1980 and then repeatedly during the decade, rage over poverty and prejudice set off civil disturbances. "After the riots, it didn't get any better," he says. Looters never touched the store. "I was open," he says. "I didn't get any problems."
Clarence knows scores of neighborhood people on a first-name basis. "I've never had any issues with them," he says. "No one has ever given me or my wife any trouble." Most of the people who lived here when the store opened have either moved away or died. "We have this new generation," he says. "These young people don't care about the community."
Too often, police officers mess with the wrong people. "They focus more on the folks drinking a beer on the corner than anyone else," he says. And there's a lack of political leadership. Since Athalie Range, a funeral home owner who became the city's first black commissioner in 1966, left the dais, criminals and incompetents have represented the area. "Ms. Range always tried to look out for the community," Clarence says. "Right now, we don't have anyone standing up for us."
Slide down the block, past the shuttered laundromat with black iron bars on blown-out windows, and you'll usually find Thomas Carr reclining against the torn blue leather seat of his gray GMC truck. It's parked in the lot of his food joint, Miracles Fry Conchfritter, at 7070 NW 15th Ave. The long, leafy branches of a tree planted on the property next door shield Carr from the scorching sunlight on a muggy May afternoon. He's dressed in a white V-neck tee, gray jeans, sandals, and tortoise shell eyeglasses.
Customers sporadically walk up to the counter of the boxy blue building to order chicken wings, burgers, and the most succulent conch fritters this side of the Bahamas. "I called this place Miracles because it was a miracle that I got it going," he says. "And it is a miracle that I've been able to stay here."
The structure was built in 1957 and started off as a Dairy Queen. No one knows when the ice-cream spot went out of business, but Carr remembers first noticing the building sometime in 1973. Back then, he was a City of Miami solid waste worker who sold fried conch in Liberty City from the back of his truck during free time. "I'd pull up in front of the building," he says. "Then I tracked down the owner and finally rented it."
At the time, Thomas and his wife would arrive before 6 a.m. She'd clean the floors and the kitchen equipment while he bought provisions. Thieves twice broke in to steal food. Ever since, he has limited purchases to one day's worth. Neighborhood kids call him Mr. Fritter.
Both of his children, Edwin and Gloria, have worked there, as well as other relatives. "Miracles gave our kids and their cousins a place to go to where they could earn an honest living until they finished school," Carr recalls.
Eight years ago, he bought the building for $20,000. He says if he had the money and crime were reduced, he'd repave the parking lot, add more green space, and remove the metal bars from the door and walk-up counter.