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‘Diversity is certainly our middle name’: C-Street boasts business variety

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As Champale Love-Hudson wraps up a nearly three-hour braiding session on a recent Monday afternoon, she reflected on her move to Commercial Street. She said the visibility at Springfield Braiding Co. LLC’s new location expanded her client base by 30% in just the last 45 days.

“Whatever their vision is, whatever their dream style is, we can braid it,” she said. “I’ve been braiding since I was 16. … This business has been my dream for five years.”

Love-Hudson operated out of the back of a local barbershop for over two years but was running out of space. She now boasts 150 clients among five stylists, who operate as independent contractors in the 2,000-square-foot shop, 219 E. Commercial St. They specialize in natural hair care, hair weaving, braiding, dreadlocks and haircuts.

“It’s the first African American-owned braiding shop in southwest Missouri,” she said. “It’s something Springfield has needed for a while. We have clients that come from a really long way away.”

Springfield Braiding Co. is bookended by Big Momma’s Coffee and Espresso Bar LLC and Della’s Beauty Plus LLC in the center of bustling C-Street. The historic district spans six blocks in north Springfield, and diversity of both business offerings and ownership is at the heart of the street.

Spice of life
Among Historic Commercial Street’s nearly 60 businesses, 68% are owned by women and 11% are owned by African Americans, according to Springfield Business Journal research. That’s a jump from citywide figures. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau indicates 29% of businesses in Springfield are women-owned and 8.7% are minority-owned.

“It’s become its own type of energy that seems to attract like energy. People who like a diversity of socioeconomic populations are drawn to each other,” said Mary Collette, president of the Commercial Club of Springfield and owner of the Historic Firehouse No. 2 event venue. “Diversity is certainly our middle name.”

Variety of services and products is also apparent walking down the street, now in its 150th anniversary. All but one store is based in Springfield, and businesses range from fitness centers like Lewis Boxing Gym to costume shop A Wench in the Gear LLC and property management firm The Vecino Group LLC. On the east end, The Gay and Lesbian Community Center of the Ozarks is set up next door to internationally renowned chocolatier Askinosie Chocolate LLC.

History is represented by Lindberg’s, Springfield’s oldest tavern, and the C-Street dining menu offers Dutch, Peruvian, Italian and Lebanese cuisines.

Elie and Beth Ghanem own and operate That Lebanese Place at the corner of Commercial and Jefferson Avenue.

Elie Ghanem was born in Lebanon and moved to the United States in his 20s. He discovered his business plan while deployed overseas with the Army.

“The moment the units I was with tasted Lebanese food, that’s all they wanted to eat,” he said.

“I started thinking it was time for me to bring Lebanese food home.”

He started the eatery as a food truck but outgrew the space in a matter of months. The business moved to C-Street seven years ago.

“It really is an amazing street. It’s very diversified,” he said. “It’s going to be the destination at some point for the whole of Springfield.”

The couple might not have said that when the business first moved in. Beth Ghanem said by 7 p.m., there used to be no traffic or pedestrians.

“Just in the time we’ve been here, it has changed so much and it just keeps getting better,” she said.

Elie Ghanem said he also worried Springfieldians wouldn’t like the cuisine, but he’s found he has a cult-like following now, with customers traveling regularly from West Plains and Rogers, Arkansas.

Back to its roots
Collette first opened a business on C-Street in 1980. She said with a longstanding negative perception at the time, property values were low.

“It was an inexpensive place to start a business,” she said. “We tended to have a more diverse group of merchants and property owners.”

She said diversity was never an explicit goal, but rather it happened organically.

The city of Springfield was born and developed because of the nearby train tracks, where trains first rolled through around 1870.

“Everything that you needed was within a few blocks. That’s who Commercial Street was in 1870 until the turn of the century,” Collette said. “That spirit has never left the district. We have a little bit of everything.”

New developments also are part of the growth. Historic Commercial Developments LLC plans to begin work in the first quarter on the site of the former Missouri Hotel. Co-owner Titus Williams, president of Prosperiti Partners LLC, said the estimated $50 million redevelopment plan calls for multifamily housing, retail and office space, as well as a possible boutique hotel.

Collette said after four decades working on C-Street, the people and businesses have become part of her family. She said that’s also the allure for visitors.

“We feel like home,” she said. “We care for one another as family.”

C-Street business owner Della Gardner recently felt that firsthand after her niece and nephew were killed in a car crash last year. She said fellow business owners raised money for her and brought her food.

“They just showered me with love,” she said. “I don’t want to be anywhere else. This place is wonderful.”

She opened Della’s Beauty Plus three years ago. It’s primarily a wig shop – created by another family tragedy.

“I had a sister that passed away of colon cancer. She had trouble getting a wig,” Gardner said. “She said, ‘Remember that dream you had of opening your own hair business? Why don’t you do that?’”

After retiring from Kraft Foods Co. in 2016, that’s what she did. Roughly 10% of her customers have cancer.

“I get all types of people in here, whether they’re Asian, African American, Caucasian, Spanish, transgender,” she said. “We treat everybody the same.”

She said the central location, and proximity to the highway and bus stops have been critical to her business.

“It was the best thing I ever could have done is get right down here,” Gardner said. “I love all the people on Commercial.”

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