The Party Pantry, located where Trail Town Brewery now stands, was a longtime Black-owned business in Yellow Springs. The business sold food and spirits for its adult customers, as well as treats for younger patrons who would stop by on their way home from school. (Photo courtesy of Antiochiana, Antioch College)

Black-owned Businesses in Yellow Springs: An Oral history

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In decades past, a villager could walk through town and encounter a host of businesses owned by Black residents of Yellow Springs.

“Over the years, I think there have been upwards of 40 businesses,” said villager Karen McKee.

This summer, the News spoke with McKee, Jalyn Roe and Jocelyn Robinson, longtime Black residents, who shared their memories of the Black-owned businesses their families frequented growing up in Yellow Springs. Memories are often all that’s left of once-thriving businesses owned by Black residents; in 2020, only one Black-owned business operates downtown — The Yellow Springs Toy Company, which Jamie Sharp opened in 2018.

This story relies mainly on memory — of those interviewed and those cited in YS News articles from the past — to construct a timeline of many of the village’s beloved Black-owned businesses.

Memories of Black-owned businesses

McKee said that in her youth, many of the village’s Black-owned businesses were located along Dayton Street — it was the “primary business district” for Black shop owners, she said. A few also operated outside of the downtown business district.

Along Dayton Street, there was a shoe repair shop operated by James Johnson, which opened in the 1940s; the business was purchased by William Hawkins in the ’50s and renamed Hawk’s Shoe Repair. The shoe shop held special significance for McKee — her father, renowned former police chief James McKee, worked part-time at Hawk’s while still a student in Springfield.

“My mom used to walk home from school at Bryan High School and pass Hawk’s,” McKee said. “One day my dad was outside the shop while he was working and she walked by — and that’s how they met.”

Also on Dayton Street was Stag’s Cleaners, operated by Jason Stagner. It was one of two cleaners operating in the village at the time; nearby, on Corry Street, there was Joe Holly’s Cleaners, a white-owned business. Jocelyn Robinson said her family tended to patronize Stag’s over Holly’s.

“That’s where we felt comfortable,” she said. “Joe Holly was a cranky old guy — I don’t know if there was some bias there or if he really was just cranky, but I didn’t feel comfortable there.”

Bias wasn’t uncommon in Yellow Springs — famously, Gegner’s Barber Shop refused to accept Black men as customers, ending in a much-publicized demonstration on Xenia Avenue and the closure of the business in 1964. On Dayton Street, however, Black villagers were welcomed into the chairs of Black-owned barber shops and beauty shops.

Pemberton’s Barber Shop opened on Dayton Street in the 1940s, and was later replaced by the Village Barber Shop, owned by Emmett Burks, in the 1960s; behind the barber was the Village Beauty Shop — colloquially known as “Laura Lee’s” — operated by Laura Woods. (Darwin Lang later opened Lang’s Village Hair Salon in the same space in the 1990s.) The barber shop and beauty shop, according to Jalyn Roe, primarily served Black clientele.

“Burks’ was where all the Black kids and men had their hair cut,” Roe said. “Everybody was wearing big afros at that time and the kids used to call him ‘Butcher Burks’ because he would cut that stuff off and give a haircut that a middle-aged man would wear.”

In the 1960s, Roe’s parents, Jake and Maxine Jones, opened the MaJaGa Bar and Night Club on Dayton Street; it was located where the Gulch now operates.

“My dad said he named it after his three queens: Maxine, Jalyn and Gala,” Roe said, naming her mother, sister and herself.

Continue reading over at Yellow Springs News.

Words by Lauren Shows.

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