Businesses invested in revitalizing Riviera Beach’s Imperial Plaza

When people in Riviera Beach look at the plaza at the intersection of Blue Heron Boulevard and Avenue R, they see potential.

It’s what attracted several business owners and longtime residents to the area to open up shop, and people like Shed Lang the owner of Boulevard Subs and More.

“I saw the possibilities,” Lang said. “I saw what we’re capable of doing, as a community we can turn this whole thing around, and I want to be a part of that.”

A long shot from what the area was just a few years ago.

“At one time, it was just one of those places where he just didn’t go,” Lang said.

However, the bruises of drugs and crime don’t last forever.

“Thanks to the new chief,” Lang said. ”He’s done a lot to clean up the parking lot. We’ve seen a lot of new people come and say I now feel safe coming into this community.”

For neighboring business owner, Tolanda Ford opening doors of her shop, Sweet Life Nutrition is essential to flipping the script.

Three black owned businesses in Imperial Plaza, including Ford’s and Lang’s, are celebrating one year anniversaries this month.

“We are changing the narrative that Riviera Beach is a bad place to be,” said Ford proudly. “ It’s a beachfront coastal community and there’s awesome things going on in Riviera Beach.”

For Lang, Ford, the neighboring Big Bites team and even longtime Riviera Beach staples like McCray’s BBQ and Seafood, black business owners know hope doesn’t come without hardship.

Derrick McCray has been around long enough to remember the positive and negative effects of social changes like integration in the 60s and the effect it had on imperial plaza.

“When integration started kicking in, less black folks started supporting their own. They had options that they didn’t have before and they had the Palm Beach Mall,” McCray said. “They had the other malls that are being built. The black folks instead of supporting their own started taking their dollars to other places and then the economic parity dropped for black folk’s business.”

According to a 2020 Pew Research center survey only 3% of businesses in the us were black owned.

The same study that year shows out of the four most populous states three (FL-15,149 CA-13,729 NY-12,636) lead in the number of black owned business with majority black ownership.

“My family has been around for 89 years. I’m the third generation pitmaster, and I fight every day for funding. I fight for the same things that everybody else does,” McCray said. “I got 18 super bowls and all kinds of accolades, but it doesn’t matter we still fight for the same things we need funding we need that same support. We need our people to start supporting black businesses.”

The facts support his feelings an Intuit Quickbooks report found 57% of black owners were denied a business loan at least once when they started their businesses, compared to 37% of non-black business owners.

“Despite my 750 credit score, despite the fact that I own property, that just wasn’t not enough,” Lang said. “You know you were a little too risky, so therefore you have to use your own capital and rely on family and those things.”

Relying on a community’s support.

The potential for the future success we were talking about in places like Imperial Plaza still lies in the hands of residents and budding entrepreneurs and those willing to invest in their dreams.

“I’m a staunch supporter of small businesses and black owned businesses, because I think that’s the heartbeat of our community,” McCray said.

Next month, on Aug. 6 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. the Imperial Plaza businesses will be holding a celebratory brunch honoring their one year mark all the while looking forward to keeping the beat going.

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