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Every morning at 5 a.m. when I begin listening to WVON 1450-AM, I can expect to hear Ms. Geneva call in. When Ms. Geneva calls in, she usually prefaces her comments by saying, "We are in denial." On every subject, whether it be crime, drugs, teenage pregnancies, neighborhoods shootings, murders, rapes, and chaos in general, I can depend on Ms. Geneva to speak about our being "in denial."
I try not to be in denial. But many times when I hear of things going on in our neighborhood, I just don't want to believe them to be true. So when I spoke with a friend who told me about Omega Plaza, I too was at first "in denial."
Omega Plaza was at Cicero and Lemoyne in the old Venture/Goldblatts/Aames building. I mentioned all the names I remembered because every time one business closed up, another came along. So when Aames left, I knew something would come along to replace it. Well something did come along, and we got Omega Plaza.
Omega Plaza, as originally presented about four years ago, was supposed to generate almost a half-million dollars a month in earnings for the businesses that would locate there. The original list included every ethnic group but black people. I didn't follow all the comings and goings of what happened with the mall, but I did visit it. Now, admittedly, it didn't have much to offer for my taste, but what it did offer was a place for our young people to buy the clothes and shoes they like to wear.
Just about six months ago, I met 10?"12 blacks who had opened businesses in the Omega Plaza. They were selling jeans, shoes, T-shirts, miscellaneous items all geared to black people's taste. The location offered parking and those who were renting inside Omega Plaza were able to eke out a living. But Omega Plaza is now shuttered and the businesses gone.
When I asked what happened, I got a bunch of stories. When one young lady told me an employee was arrested because the store where that employee worked sold "bootleg" Jordans and Gucci bags, I found myself in denial. But person after person I spoke with agreed. The City of Chicago had raided Omega Plaza, closed down some of the stores, and arrested the business owners and employees. Not only did they arrest folks, they confiscated the merchandise.
In fact, this past Friday I got an eyewitness account of how the city does it. I was at LaLa Banquet Hall. LaLa's is John Young's newest business venture. Most everyone in Austin knows John. He owns the Citizens National Bank building at Laramie and Chicago avenues. You know the place (he has a 20-foot picture of himself on the sign for the building so that everyone can know what he looks like). Anyway, there I was when two people with badges and a laptop came in. They were from the city's Dept. of Revenue, and they were serious. The wanted to check his licenses and snoop around to make sure everything was in order.
I asked them if the city were really serious about cracking down on those violating the laws, when would they begin to rid the sidewalks of those "corn carts" that are now popping up at every other corner in Austin?"you know, the carts where the people have no running water to wash their hands, no bathrooms to go to and have the audacity to serve room temperature mayonnaise with who knows what kind of bacteria growing in it. The woman snapped at me and wanted to know if I owned the place. I told her no, but my journalistic nature was curious. She shot back and told me when they get complaints about it, they will do something.
So I watched while she pored over every document, making sure the "I"s were dotted and the "T"s crossed. She checked for the food handler's license. She checked for the business license. She called someone on the phone and sounded disappointed that everything was in order. John, who has had several strokes, began to get visibly upset about the city picking on his business. I have since learned that the city likes to visit them regularly. And from what I saw, it looks more like harassment rather than enforcement.
With black businesses being held to the letter of the law, arrested, fined and closed while others are overlooked, we cannot afford to continue to "be in denial."