When Darryl Goodner was looking for a brick and mortar spot for his ice cream shop, Louisville Cream, his first choice wasn’t necessarily NuLu. But after exhibiting as a vendor at the NuLu Fest street fair, he checked out a storefront and went for it.
“The deal happened to make sense,” he said. “And it was like literally the first and only place we looked.”
Louisville Cream offers flavors like Peanut Butter Feelings and Pistachio Honeycomb. Goodner said it fits in NuLu, in terms of the business and the branding. But as an organization, it’s insulated. Goodner said he’s never been to a meeting of the NuLu Business Association. He doesn’t have the time.
“Do I not see a benefit? Not an immediate one,” he said.
As one of six team members, he’s often making ice cream as well as running the company.
One of the business decisions he might make soon is whether to sign a contract distributed after dozens of protesters shut down part of East Market Street last Friday. That was a block party-style demonstration aimed at highlighting the harm they said gentrifying NuLu has had on its former Black residents. Police arrested at least 76 protesters there.
The contract demands businesses match representation of Black products and employment with their proportion of the city’s population, 23%. It also calls for diversity training, and for businesses to donate 1.5% of their monthly profits to organizations like Black Lives Matter, if they don’t meet the representation target on their shelves.
The deadline they set is August 17.
“Asking for any money from a small business during a pandemic is a big ask,” Goodner said. “But I think also when like you have demands of a neighborhood that’s … specifically NuLu that you have to address the people that own the property as well.”
Goodner said property owners are the ones with the real money. He’d like to see them commit to this type of investment. But in the meantime, his company is willing to engage in what he hopes will be an ongoing process.
“They’re talking about accountability,” he said. “So, I expect that.”
Rick Murphy, president of the NuLu Business Association’s board of directors, and a partner in a local advertising firm, said the board has formed a committee to address the lack of Black representation in NuLu. The committee was formed in mid-July, after weeks of demonstrations in Louisville and across the country, but before the protest there last week.
He thinks the protesters’ demands could be a guide for the association.
“We’ve always been a very inclusive and welcoming neighborhood. We have a lot LGBT ownership within the neighborhood,” Murphy said. “We have minority ownership through Hispanic and other groups, but we just don’t have a lot of Black representation.”
Murphy, who is white, said Black business and employment weren’t discouraged, but the association never made dedicated efforts to attract them. And while he wants the association to adopt the protesters’ demands as goals, he took issue with the language in the contract, which he said he won’t sign.
It says, for example, that non-compliance will result in social media blasts, public boycotts, targeted protests and intentional competition, by selling similar products in booths outside offending stores.
“We will use civil discourse to work through it as opposed to, you know, threats and protests,” Murphy said. “Protests, at this point, are only hurting business and hurting the opportunity for new businesses to come in.”
He said NuLu businesses are struggling due to the pandemic’s effect on tourism. And he said the longer it takes businesses to recover, the longer it’ll take to attract new businesses —Black-owned or otherwise.
But the business association is taking some steps right now. Murphy said it’s planning to offer periodic racial justice and sensitivity training for members. And it’s searching for its first Black board member.
Goodner, of Louisville Cream, said that’s a good step. But he points out the problem isn’t limited to Nulu. It’s all across Louisville.
“There is no structure for empowering Black business owners at all,” he said. “All of the structure for that is insulary and created by the Black business owners that have managed to, like, scrape out some sort of something here.”
The community organizer who was one of the people behind the NuLu protest, Talesha Wilson, said the ongoing protests started in reaction to the police killing of Breonna Taylor, who was shot in her apartment in March.
But their scope has expanded to include many issues affecting Black Louisvillians, including obstacles to generational wealth. And that’s in part because lawyers for Taylor’s family allege gentrification of a different neighborhood was a reason her apartment was raided. City and police officials deny that narrative.
“When we fight for Black liberation, we’re not just talking about police killing Black bodies, we’re talking about freedom as a whole,” she said. “And that means being able to have and create generational wealth, being able to have the accessibility to these spaces that are providing money and resources to create businesses so that we can have things to pass down to family and friends.”
Wilson said she wants to see more action from NuLu businesses, especially because NuLu is adjacent to the former location of the massive Clarksdale public housing complex.
While that part of Louisville has changed since Clarksdale was demolished in 2005 and big-money developers moved in, Goodner, of Louisville Cream, says one of the first things he noticed was how Black the area still is. He estimated nearly half of the ice cream shop’s customers are Black. He said he strives to make everyone feel comfortable, and to offer products at price points that are attractive to people with different budgets.
That’s all part of what it’ll take to diversify NuLu. But Goodner said the key will be more Black business owners.
“I can be the Black guy on the board, you know, that goes to the board meetings and whatever,” he said. “But until there are like Black business owners who have equity in the neighborhood, then it doesn’t really matter.”
Correction: this post has been changed to reflect that the former Clarksdale housing project was located adjacent to NuLu.