Once a commercial mecca of thriving, African-American enterprise, the Metro Shopping Plaza in South Memphis is mostly vacant and its future is uncertain. (Photo: Karanja A. Ajanaku)

A once-bustling center of African-American-owned businesses was scheduled for auction on Friday (Nov. 16) until an online banner that appeared early Wednesday announced that the auction had been cancelled.

No additional information was offered nor readily available.

It’s uncertain if or when the auction of the Metro Shopping Plaza property at 432 East E.H.Crump Blvd. – a 38126 – will be re-scheduled. At least one pastor sees the reprieve as another opportunity to acquire the complex.

“We have purchased all of the adjacent lots around the church,” said the Rev. Roger R. Brown of Greater White Stone Baptist Church. “We want to revitalize this area. Our community development component called ‘The Stone’ has been reaching out to corporate and non-profit partners to refurbish apartments on Wellington. We have already created a Wi-Fi park at Williams Street and Wellington so anyone can have access to the Internet.”

The shopping complex mostly is vacant now, but residents who frequented it through the ’70s and ’80s remember a commercial mecca of thriving, African-American enterprise – beauty shops, barbers, food spots, spaces for meetings and community organization.

The Mahalia Jackson Chicken Franchise opened there in 1968, a few months after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“My father was a cook (there),” said Brenda Herring. “We loved going up there. Everybody I knew loved going there. The chicken was good, but I think it was just the idea of eating chicken from Mahalia Jackson. I was so sad to see it close down.”

Pastor Brown recalled the South Memphis block party and homecoming held earlier this year.

“I remember (former Mayor and Memphis City Schools Supt.) Dr. (Willie W.) Herenton standing out there on the steps of Larose (Elementary) School. He was emotional as he reflected on growing up here in South Memphis. He was a student at LaRose.

“Dr. Herenton came back to teach; then he became the principal, and from there, the superintendent of schools. And of course, our first black mayor. Dr. Herenton loves South Memphis, and we love Dr. Herenton.”

Two years ago, Brown told the church’s board he would like to acquire the shopping center. Under the church’s community development work, he wants to revitalize the space, bring it back to where it once was.

“We don’t have a skating rink in our community,” said Brown. “There is no bowling alley or place for recreation for our young people. The skating rink on Third Street is closed now. The Boys and Girls Club on Orleans is closed. The YMCA on Lauderdale is closed. I would love a skating rink there. Also, we want an office for Workforce Development, housing assistance, entreprenuership – a resource center where people can come and get the help they need.”

He believes Metro Shopping Plaza can prosper again “if we can enlist the help of partners to restore it. We don’t want this valuable property to go the way of gentrification because when they are finished, our folk won’t be able to stay here. The area will not be refurbished for us. We won’t be able to afford it.”

Recalling the center’s prime time, Lynn Jackson, “It would be wonderful if we could save the shopping center and keep it in our community. …Maybe God is just giving us a little more time with the auction canceling and all.

“We can’t bring back the past, but we can give our young people a taste of how great it was to see black business owners right over there at Metro. That would be just wonderful.”

According to the Morris Realty Auction office, the shopping center was to be auctioned at the direction of Regions Bank before the online cancellation was posted.