ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — St. Pete's 22nd Street used to rival Black main streets like Beale Street in Memphis and Sweet Auburn in Atlanta, but with integration and infrastructure progress, "The Deuces" virtually disappeared by 1980.
"I spent most of my entire day on Saturdays walking up and down the corridor of 22nd Street South." Elihu Brayboy said.
Brayboy fondly remembers walking down 22nd Street, nickel in hand, to buy cookies from Harden's grocery store. It was one of the many Black businesses of The Deuces. But after integration, the golden era started fading.
"Then came the interstate that tore into the corridor, separated it," he said, "By 1980 the Black community of South St. Petersburg had disappeared. The Black business community had disappeared."
Even though his childhood home on 25th and 17th is long gone, he still calls this place home.
"We looked up and down the corridor and saw this ghost town and said we will do something about it," Brayboy said.
So, the Brayboys bought that old grocery store they used to buy cookies from and the building next door. Now it's Chief's Creole Cafe. Then, they bought more property.
"The community questioned our sanity. Now I'm not as crazy as I used to be," Brayboy said.
Now, the city's jumping on board.
"One of the first commitments [Mayor Rick Kriseman and I] made to each other and to our city is that we would invest in our people as much as our places," Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin said.
Mayor Kriseman and Deputy Mayor Tomalin announced a multi-million dollar project to restore 22nd Street, calling it "Deuces Rising."
"The importance that it's played and the place that it holds in the heart of Black St. Petersburg never went away," she said.
The plans include new parks, a decorative gateway, affordably priced townhomes and a new building for the Carter G. Woodson African-American History Museum. The city is taking care of the construction up the road from Chief's, while Brayboy is bringing up the rear. He has his own plan.
"This community is my village, this community looked out for me, my goal now is to look out for this community," Brayboy said. "The Deuces must rise again."
St. Petersburg leaders are already getting proposals for their project. They want to get them approved in the next six to nine months.