The asterisk shape that forms the Six Points business district in Highland Park is most notable for the husks of its storefronts. Blinkered with plywood, empty-windowed and gaping, they’re all that remains of the clothiers, restaurants, barbershops and markets.
“How did it used to be?” says James Brown Jr., 55, taking in the morning sun and the wisecracks of his street-corner friends. “Booming. How is it now? Dead.”
That assessment might lead one to call the patching and painting now underway the equivalent of putting makeup on a corpse.
But use that analogy and you can expect vociferous disagreement from people here. “We are not dead,” market owner Michael Simpson says. The sprucing of storefronts, vacant and occupied, is nothing less than commitment to the future, he says: “It is an act of faith.” What was shall be again.
“There is always greater later,” he says, “if you can endure.”
Simpson, 59, has owned and operated Simpson’s Market since he was 19. He says no one has kept a business open in Six Points longer than he. And, yes, he says, in days past “the neighborhood had a closeness, a fruitfulness.”
But that spirit has not been extinguished, he says. Because of a Local Initiative Support Corp. grant, the volunteers of the Highland Park Quality of Life team will continue applying fresh paint to thirsty bricks. They’ll be out again Saturday, where Meadowbridge Road meets Brookland Park Boulevard. Call it part of the slow-motion revival of Six Points and the residential neighborhoods surrounding it.
Once upon a time, the six-way intersection was the heart of the city’s first streetcar suburb. The streetcars left. White residents followed. The black middle-class came and went. Then the neighborhood was just poor, made more so by a public housing project, the death of manufacturing jobs and the taint of crime. By the late ’90s, early 2000s, the business district had atrophied.
In recent years, housing projects have been replaced by mixed-income housing, nonprofits have been investing in residents, and languishing homes have been rehabbed and sold as affordable housing.
This is still one of the poorest parts of the city. But “there will always be trying times,” Simpson says. And when he looks out onto Meadowbridge, he can see a future where the storefronts beckon and the sidewalks hum and goodwill laces the air.
“We were family and we want that back again,” he says, “and hopefully one day, it will be.”