Revitalizing Frenchtown: The Community or the Heritage?


By: Lauren Coleman

Frenchtown has been through quite a year. From potential developments to one of the almost completed housing facilities changes are happening in that community. In March of 2017, there was an article stating that a new developer was trying to purchase property in Frenchtown.

The developer’s plan were to buy the property and build more housing for students. Residents of Frenchtown gather together and rallied to oppose the exchange between the city and the buying developer.

Residents gathered to help fight the proposal but ultimately their efforts did not make the change they were hoping to see. In April, the purchase of the property went to the developer with many residents disappointed with the outcome.

Some residents were concerned with how the heritage of Frenchtown was going to be preserved. Frenchtown has a rich history that only people who grew up in in the neighborhood would know about.

Photo Courtesy of Lauren Coleman

Residents of the Tallahassee have no true recollection of what Frenchtown use to be.  Frenchtown was once an area known for thriving black-owned businesses such as pharmacies, hotels and entertainment spots.

This was the area where black families came to make a name for themselves and build from where they previously were. People who grew up in or even around the around the area remember how Frenchtown use to be.

Tracy Garrison,  gives a glimpse into what growing up in Frenchtown was like. “I was born here, on FAMU’s campus and coming through Frenchtown was the coolest thing because it was a lot. It was the black businesses and it was just businesses on both sides of the streets.”

Looking at Frenchtown now versus how Mr. Garrison describes it then, is completely different. There are not many businesses, but the ones that are there have the support to keep them where they are currently located.

The location where the economy drug store and local barber shops are located is the only original structure of Frenchtown. The economy drug store is owned by Geraldine Roberts with her daughter Alexis Roberts McMillan is the store manager.

The store would not want to move from the original structure due to wanting to keep the Frenchtown heritage. Ms. McMillan said that the store should move for the sole purpose of an expansion, there still no reason to be like a convenience store such as Walgreens or CVS.

They would do everything possible to make the drugstore is available for everyone.  “I see us as being able to serve as many people, if we must lengthen our hours, we will be there for our community,” said Alexis Robert McMillan Store Manager of Economy Drug Store.

It would be best to support your local independent pharmacy because it’s not only good for the business but also for the economy. “Whatever we need to do to meet the public is what we will try to do,” said Ms. McMillan

The local barbershops that are also in the area are looking to stay. The Gilliam Brothers shop has been open for over 50 years. Ervin Omega Gilliam Jr and his brother, Melvin, took over their father’s legacy by continuing to keep his shop open for as long as possible.  

Having the affordable housing and student apartments could be an economic gain for them. “I think it would be a money boost for us but at the same token if they move too much around then I don’t know but whatever happens here and there (both housing complex) we’re going to be a part of that,” Ervin Omega Gilliam Jr stated. Mr. Gilliam is looking at both sides of the situation to figure out what their plans are going to be within the next year.

These local businesses need help to keep their shops and the Tallahassee Urban League is looking to help those in that original building. They can possibly borrow money from the CRA to help restore the structure.

To aid those local businesses, they are going to market through flyers, Facebook, whatever means to help market the businesses and help them gain more clients.

“Creating more revenue for those businesses does make it possible for more of our young people to be gainfully employed,” said Curtis Taylor, Vice President of The Tallahassee Urban League. The League’s plans are to help these businesses continue to thrive even with the new housing facilities coming to the area.  

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