The week of December 7th, a drunk driver collided into one of Chicago’s last independent newsstands on 58th and Indiana Ave. The structure collapsed while the owner, Beatrice Flowers, was still inside the establishment. The newsstand was demolished. After a brief time in the hospital, Ms. Flowers began working from her car on the same corner where her family’s newsstand once stood. It had been in her family for over 30 years.
A regular customer, Mike Owens of Smart Moves Restoration and Contracting, LLC, came to help immediately after the accident and enlisted volunteers to help with the rebuilding project. He then contacted Melvin Henley (PAC Leaders, LLC) and Tytus Henry (Lion Heart Construction), fellow contractors, to help. Together they offered to rebuild this historic South Side newsstand. On December 10th, the construction began, and completion took place on December 11th. The volunteers included professionals and several students who learned carpentry, design, and drywall and insulation installment skills. We spoke with project leaders Melvin Henley and Mike Owens about their gracious act of kindness and gratifying experience.
Mike Owens: I saw the situation right after it occurred. The drunk driver ran into the newsstand while Ms. Flowers was still in it. I spoke to her. She was emotional and surprised she was still alive after the dangerous ordeal. We talked about stories when her mother worked at the newsstand in my youth. Our talks included some of my fond memories growing up and associated with the establishment. I had been patronizing Ms. Flowers’ business for the last nine months since I moved back from Hollywood, FL. I’m from the area and went to Englewood High School.
When it came time to begin the project, I sent Melvin a text message, and we took to social media asking for materials and volunteers. Surprisingly, this project came together in about 12 hours. My role was to oversee the entire building process, to assist planning to whatever was needed from start to finish.
Melvin Henley: Mike Owens contacted me, and he asked me if I had extra materials. He told me the story, and I met Mike at the site. The owner Beatrice Flowers was in tears. June 1st made 30 years since her family owned the newsstand and another family-owned it before then since the 1920s. PAC Leader, LLC specializes in carpentry. We received donations and got materials from Menards and Home Depot. Together we came up with the design too. We went to Facebook live to ask for help with donations, and it was a big success. I also tried to do volunteer work and training on the job. We got the materials and put the structure together, and Smart Moves Restoration, LLC did mud and tape base and insulation installation. We started from scratch because the whole thing was destroyed. Ms. Flowers showed me a picture of it before and then told me the dimensions.
She was happy that we agreed to do it. In total, there were four volunteers on the first day and then six the next. So many people came by to offer support and offered all of us lunch. People came by and discussed the newsstand’s history, reminisced about their experiences, and shared various topics on the importance of collaboration, legacy, black businesses, and preserving our history and culture.
Okema Gunn is a writer living in Chicago. Find her on social media @sevengunn.