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Historic Buildings Brought Back to Life by Minority Entrepreneurs

North Omaha is far enough away from I-80 that most cross-country travelers never head up to see this suburb in the Greater Omaha Metro Area. For Theardis Young and CharDale Barnes, this community is where they were born and raised.

Barnes went to North High, while Young got his diploma from Benson High School. The two entrepreneurs initially met while attending the same church because they were on the production team.

Young freelanced as a marketer and graphic designer in those early years. Barnes had experience in A/V and sound engineering, but he was also considering attending coding school.

Neither thought they would be part of revitalizing the historic North 24th Street business district in North Omaha.

Their business, called Stable Gray, provides another Black-owned local, for-profit company to the area, breathing new life into the area’s older buildings.

The Older Neighborhoods in North Omaha Were All Founded by 1900

When you visit North Omaha, you’ll find some beautiful neighborhoods and business districts demanding attention. All of the older spaces were founded at the turn of the 20th century, including Gifford Park, Kountze Place, and Walnut Hill.

In 1898, more than one million people visited the area to enjoy the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition, which served as a world’s fair from June to November that year. [[1]]

From the 1920s to the 1950s, North 24th Street was seen as the “Street of Dreams.” It’s where the region’s African-American culture thrived, including hosting an early chapter of the National Urban League.

Three major riots tore through the North 24th area in the 1960s and 1970s. Now, nearly 50 years later, a new generation is taking over the streets to reclaim what was lost. Young and Barnes are part of that group. [[2]]

Stable Gray Made the Move to Join Fabric

When Stable Gray moved its marketing, branding, and web services company into a retail storefront on North 24th, they joined an urban development project called Fabric. It encompasses three apartments and five commercial spaces in that area.

About 50 people joined the grand opening of Stable Gray’s new location. “It’s exciting to be a part of that,” said Yong to the crowd. “With the energy that’s happening down here, and the synergy, there are so many organizations and businesses that are working hard to get 24th Street back to where it used to be. [[3]]

Young and Barnes launched their business in 2015, offering local companies a few essential media services. Their goal then was the same as it is today: to help companies build a strong brand presence while keeping prices affordable.

Since they opened seven years ago, the partnership has grown to include corporate video production, brand photography, graphic design, and custom websites. Their goal is to expand their team with this new location from four employees to ten while offering about double the median wage in Nebraska.

“Our business is helping businesses build the brand of their dreams,” Young said.

Reaching Minority Businesses Is Their Priority with the New Location

Stable Gray has an extensive portfolio to share that includes work for several local businesses and organizations. Their specialty is helping others reach a diverse audience to encourage growth, including Black- and minority-owned businesses, which was one of the primary reasons the duo decided to join the Fabric development.

“We wanted to have a business in North Omaha,” said Young. “[Our location] is an essential service that’s needed for business to grow… it’s about access.”

Most minority-owned businesses have less access to professional marketing or branding services. Young says that most have had to bootstrap, which means there isn’t enough of a margin available to do marketing. [[4]]

It’s more than just the buildings in North Omaha that are going through revitalization with the help of Stable Gray and other local businesses. A pedestrian route is getting built in the area, new bike paths are getting installed, and the Union of Contemporary Art is transforming another historic structure into a theater.

Manne Cooke is leading the development efforts. He used to work as a city planner, and he takes delight in the arguments about how to classify North 24th. “There’s discussion about whether that stretch is redeveloping as a business district, a cultural district, an innovation district, or a historic district,” Cooke said. “In my opinion, it is all of those things.”

The redevelopment plan was initially started in 2020. In February 2022, the Omaha city council approved the investments with a 7-0 vote. It’s a new chance to build a legacy that lasts for years to come.

 

References:

[[1]] Buffalo Bill at the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition and Indian Congress of 1898 (archive.org);[[2]] A look back: The Omaha riots of the 1960s (3newsnow.com);[[3]] Entrepreneurs bringing new life to old business buildings on historic North 24th Street | Local Business News | omaha.com; [[4]] Data on Minority-Owned, Veteran-Owned and Women-Owned Businesses (census.gov)

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