First published in a 2008 Bayview Footprints Local News print edition that focused on Bayview business.
At age 83, The Bayview Merchants Association is the wise and active senior citizen of Bayview organizations. In 1925 when the BMA was founded, the Southern Pacific train still labored through the heart of the neighborhood along Railroad Avenue (now Third Street). Young women's dresses flirted with the knees. Hunters Point Dry Docks had just become the largest drydock in the country. And cows grazed on the hills between the railroad and the water.
|Al Norman was the BMA President|
when this article was published.
Lashon Walker is the current BMA
President. Photo: Footprints
It was a sleepy town compared to today, but business activity had reached a threshold that required an organized presence in the rough and tumble world of San Francisco's post-earthquake boom years. A generation later, as Allied forces fought toward victory in Europe, African-Americans from the South and poor whites from the "Dust Bowl" prairie states migrated to the neighborhood in search of decent jobs building war ships at the Shipyard.
And life was good in Bayview. The economy was growing along with the population. Women gardened. Children swam in the Bay. And men, whether in overalls or uniforms, strolled confidently up Railroad Avenue with money in their pockets. Bayview businesses, especially African-American businesses, needed a new voice and powerful advocacy.
Archie Reynolds understood the needs of both the African-American community and the business community when he reshaped the Bayview Merchants' Association just two years after coming to Bayview from New Orleans. In 1943, like so many others, he moved here for a Shipyard job, worked at the Post Office for a short time, and then opened "Bayview Bar B.Q." at 4720 Third Street. Before long, Reynolds moved his business to 5130 Third Street, renaming it "Archie's Bar B.Q."
According to a 1960 Spokesman Newspaper, Reynolds was committed to family and community. He opened his own business, he said, because he wanted to be sure he could afford to send his six children to college. Fast-forward to the present day, and the need for Bayview business to have a voice is as great as ever. What is that voice saying? ThThThird Street! Al Norman, current BMA President, has a vision.
"Go to 24th Street in Noe Valley on any Saturday afternoon," he said recently, "and you'll see what business in Bayview should be like." To reach that goal, Norman wants to see the capacity of businesses on Third Street strengthened, and the corridor made safe for shoppers. "We're going to work very hard on the safety issue," he said.
Is Norman optimistic? You bet!
"There's a coming together of the minds," he said, adding that there are better relationships between the individuals and groups involved in business revitalization than there has been in a long time. Mel Washington, owner of Bay Copy and past President (1999 to 2004) of the BMA, is equally optimistic.
"Things have already improved," he said, motioning out the window of his business at Bayview Plaza as the T Third train passed by.
|Mr. Washington & Ms. Knighten|
Joyce Knighten, Treasurer of the BMA and owner of Doublerock Foods, agreed. "I'm optimistic," she said. "Even with the problems, small businesses are doing okay." Washington and Knighten both recalled how the BMA had risen to address serious issues many times in its history - advocating with city government, supporting civic activities, addressing issues like safety, parking, and traffic. They also remembered the BMA's 75th anniversary gala at Hunters Point Shipyard, a big and elegant event at a time when the Shipyard was mostly dormant.
In years to come, that event may be recalled as the beginning of a new period in Bayview business, and not just a celebration of the past. The Bayview Merchant's Association is here today, working toward a time when Third Street is teeming with shoppers. Now that's a vision we can all share!