More on our story about the reworking of A. Schwab, Beale Street’s oldest retail institution.
Schwab is one of two parcels of land in the district not owned by the city of Memphis which got the land in the urban renewal period of the 1960s when the Memphis Housing Authority got the land.
The other is the Old Daisy theater owned by Beale Street Development Corporation.
BSDC was the non-profit created to satisfy concerns in the 1970s that the coming redevelopment of Beale Street would ignore the street’s history and heritage as the center of black politics, commerce and entertainment in the 19th and early 20th century. The BSDC is the middle man between the city and Performa Entertainment, the manager and developer of the district.
The BSDC got the Old Daisy for use as an interpretive center for exhibits on the street’s history and heritage. And that’s what the theater did when the district reopened in 1983.
It didn’t last long.
Randle Catron, the BSDC’s long time executive director, talked last year about reviving the role by leading walking tours from the theater but there has been next to no evidence that the Old Daisy is anything more than a rental hall for parties and receptions. It’s also a foothold in the district for the BSDC as the bankruptcy of Performa is still pending in federal bankruptcy court.
Performa settled all of the litigation between it and the city long ago and the bankruptcy filing was part of the process. The problem is Beale Street is more than an agreement between those two parties. The third wheel is BSDC and it hasn’t settled with anyone at this point. When or if that happens the case could then be laid to rest and the city of Memphis would begin establishing the framework for the second phase of the redeveloped Beale Street.
The new owners of A. Schwab, meanwhile, want to do more with the tour groups and school field trip groups that come to the store about two blocks west of the Old Daisy.
Among the items found during the store’s ongoing renovation is a 19th century book about Freemasons, a centennial edition of The Commercial Appeal, half a dozen different types of cash registers and lots of machines no longer used for clothing and apparel items no longer made. There is more than enough there to give young minds on a very old street a good look into the life of another time.
There is your interpretive center established in the Beale Street lease.
It was interesting watching the interaction between Elliott Schwab and Terry Saunders as they sort through items long forgotten in the store.
Saunders came across a small box of shoe buttons covered in dust that she had general plans for somewhere to be determined later. Schwab saw it and began picking some of the dust out. Saunders said she was trying to preserve the dusty look. “There’s more where that came from,” Schwab replied.