Subway Saturday: Dozens file into the Lake and Pulaski Subway restaurant May 10, to buy sandwiches. (Courtesy Malcolm Crawford)

Politicians, residents, community organizers and business leaders converged on the Subway restaurant at Lake Street and Pulaski, May 10, to not only show support for that black-owned franchise but for black West Side businesses overall.

More than $1,000 from an estimated 200 sandwich sales filled the cash register at the 304 N. Pulaski Subway owned by Kevin and Deirdre Cunningham. They opened their business in November 2013. Saturday’s sales drive brought out the Westside Branch NAACP, Austin elected officials, and West Side residents. Promoted on WGCI Radio and local television, people even came from other parts of town.

“They came all the way from the South Side. They said they had heard about it on the radio; they had already had lunch and said they’d take it back for their grandkids, but they just wanted to come to the Subway,” said Malcolm Crawford, director of the Austin African American Business Networking Association, whose group was among the organizers of the event. 

Saturday was a follow-up to the AAABNA’s 3-day business summit from last week, which drew nearly 300 people. Current and upstart entrepreneurs attended the summit, hosted at Sankofa Cultural Arts Center, 5820 W. Chicago Ave., co-owned by Crawford and his wife Stacia.

With the theme “Creating a mind-shift” about how businesses work in the community, the summit was meant to educate people.

“Our objective was to give people the proper information because a lot of what we’re doing is based on a lack of information,” Crawford said. “What was said is that we’re too fragmented. We have 300 people trying to do 300 things.

Crawford added that Saturday’s event was also part of the short-term plan for community businesses outlined at the summit — to create an action plan that everyone can support.

“If we call ourselves leaders but no one will follow you, you’re just someone taking a walk,” Crawford said. “If we can’t even buy a sandwich, then we need to really rethink how we support our community.” 

The long-term plan involves creating a business and cultural hub in black communities similar to other ethnic neighborhoods, like Greek Town, Little Italy and Chinatown, Crawford said.  

“The one piece that makes a holistic community is that economic driver. Everybody in those communities may not be of that ethnic group, but those dollars are. And it takes federal, state and local support to create that infrastructure.”

Crawford and other business leaders have targeted Chicago Avenue as the hub for that infrastructure. But he noted that the crime issue can’t be overlooked. 

“In Chicago, the six most violent communities are also the six poorest communities, so there’s a direct correlation between economics and violence.”

AAABNA and other groups are planning sales drives for other West Side businesses similar to the one for Subway. The groups also want to record the level of support from the drives. Customers will receive tickets to fill out showing how many people came out. The groups, Crawford added, will finish out this month with the Cunninghams’ Subway before moving onto another business.  

“We want to see what we do for his register,” Crawford said. 

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