Merchant sees BOLD impact in Birmingham’s historic Fourth Avenue Business District

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — In the heart of Birmingham’s Central Business District and the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument is a historic commercial corridor that continues to thrive as a symbol of pride for Birmingham — the historic Fourth Avenue Business District. It is a place that highlights the collective resiliency of Black Birmingham during the Jim Crow era. During that time, the district served as the social, cultural and economic center for Black life in and around Birmingham.

“The Fourth Avenue Business District during my childhood was the cultural ‘mecca’ for Black families during that period,” said Shirley Ferrill, who owns a small business in the district. “I grew up in Sylacauga in the 1950s, and when Easter came around, we traveled to the Fourth Avenue Business District to get our Easter frocks, prom dresses, Christmas gifts and much more.”

Ms. Ferrill owns Ferrill African Wear, an Afro-centric mercantile store that has been located at 320 16th St. N. for more than three years. Since opening her business, Shirley has witnessed a steady growth in development and pedestrian activity in the heart of the historic district.

The momentum can be attributed in part to BOLD funding from the City of Birmingham’s Department of Innovation and Economic Opportunity. Over three years, the department has awarded $2.5 million through BOLD — Building Opportunities for Lasting Development — to help promote economic opportunity for Birmingham businesses and residents.

Urban Impact, a community development organization, received BOLD funds to boost marketing and promotion activities in the Fourth Avenue Business District. They’ve also developed a key marketing campaign called “4th Avenue Forward” to brand and market the district to aspiring entrepreneurs and to attract visitors. For example, the Black Joy Bazaar provided a platform for aspiring entrepreneurs to test their business models, and it attracted visitors to the district.

“Due to the increased marketing initiatives of Urban Impact, I’ve witnessed an uptick in foot traffic,” said Ms. Ferrill. “The increased pedestrian traffic turns into more opportunities for sales, and of course, that’s good for my business.”

The increased marketing efforts have showcased the Fourth Avenue Business District and positioned it to once again serve as a hub of economic activity.

Since receiving the funding, we’ve been able to move the district forward,” said Darryl Washington, Director of Operations and Programs at Urban Impact. “We’ve leveraged the funding to successfully secure nationally recognized economic development programs and resources to catalyze additional revitalization efforts.”

These national programs include: UrbanMain, an equitable revitalization approach; Kiva Hub, which offers microloans at 0% interest to small business owners; and BE BHM, an initiative that advances Black entrepreneurs for Birmingham’s economy through small business development programming. All of these efforts will collectively create an environment that will create opportunities for entrepreneurs and property owners.

“The district is full of boundless opportunities,” Ms. Ferrill said. “If you haven’t been to the district, I personally invite you out to experience the sights and sounds of the Fourth Avenue Business District. We are open for business.”

Over the next six months, the 4th Avenue Forward campaign plans more community pop-up events, as well as new strategies to bring in more foot traffic and use public art activities to make the district more vibrant.

To learn more about Urban Impact visit www.urbanimpactbirmingham.org and follow @urbanimpactbham on social channels.