Tiecha Merritt’s Story
Winter of 1995 – 1996, Brooklyn former schoolmates David Mark Greaves and this writer announced the arrival of Our Time Press as “a distinctly different grassroots publication committed to the empowerment of African-American consumers and the Afrocentric businesses that serve them.”
The rationale was centered on telling the stories general market rarely told, about a readership barely visible to that media. Our idea was for readers to access stories close to heart by crossing the threshold of Black and Brown enterprises where they would find DBG Media’s free publication.
Greaves further wrote, “shopping in a Black-owned establishment is a political act; each purchase builds a business and strengthens our communities. Make your statement with your dollars” so that “together we can establish strong, fresh roots for our generation and generations to come.”
At the time, we had no clue that one mother, psychologist Lillithe Meyers, was already hard at work preparing her daughter, Tiecha Merritt, for the rudiments of entrepreneurship – along those same OTP principles.
Now, Ms. Merritt, in business for nearly three decades, is celebrating her fifth year as President of the Tompkins Avenue Merchants, an organization which has pulled past stumbling blocks to become a model for creative entrepreneurship buoyed by its partnership with the Bridge Street Development Corporation (BSDC) and the organization’s Open Streets program.
Our Time Press kicks off its relaunch of our business column with a two-part salute to Ms. Merritt and the Bridge Street Development Corporation in photos and commentary, this month.
After 26 years, we look to organizations and individuals in the community for inspiration to remain loyal to our early missions. We also remain steadfast in giving credit where credit is due, and not let “events or our stories pass through our lives leaving a wake of unshared remembrances which fade in time.” Despite stumbling blocks, the village perseveres, thanks to individuals like Ms. Merritt and organizations, like BSDC, whose mission is to support them.
- Bernice Elizabeth Green
Tiecha Merritt Speaks
Northeast Brooklyn (NEBHDCO) gave me my first opportunity in my quest to become an entrepreneur. Plain and simple: the commercial spaces were affordable. In the late 1990’s, the rental space for my African clothing and artifacts store was only $300 a month. A lot has changed with the rent, but the dedication of organizations like Northeast Brooklyn and Bridge Street Development Corporation (BSDC) to people like me still exists.
My mother, Lillithe Meyers, was a jazz enthusiast, so we later turned the space we rented into The Jazz Spot cafe which showcased the talents of unsung heroes in that genre. What kept my mother and I going was her passion for the music, compassion for struggling artists and our mutual interest in wanting to be a part of the movement to make the community better through culture and health – a reason, by the way, that we sold no alcohol. “Jazz and Coffee, Please!” was our slogan.
We teamed up with Jeffrey Dunston, then CEO, Northeast Brooklyn and offered Free-Jazz-in-the-Garden events for the community. In 2008 I opened The Bush Doctor Juice Bar in central Bed-Stuy, just as the rents were beginning to increase.
Thankfully, Our Time Press and Bridge Street Development Corporation development came to my rescue.
“The Press” referred me to Bridge Street which offered the current space on Tompkins at an affordable rent. My point is that while I had a vision and was determined to keep it active, I don’t think I would have been able to sustain it without the input of community groups like North East Brooklyn and Bridge Street Development.
In 2017 I became the very first president of the Tompkins Avenue Merchants Association (TAMA). It turned out to be pivotal in my journey to work in … and for … the community with people who thought like me about entrepreneurship as a route to community empowerment. The expression, it takes a Village took on deep meaning for me.
We launched a series of activities that spoke to families and children: the children’s art crawl in partnership with P.S 305 on Monroe Street. We merchants contributed $25 each to this venture. At the time P. S 305 did not have an art teacher so a TAMA business owner’s daughter (Eva- Milan Zsiga) volunteered as an art teacher to help the school prepare for the crawl. It was a success!
Uplifted by the success of the crawl, we organized as a united front and approached BSDC with an idea for something bigger. BSDC’s amazing strategist Oma Holloway saw the vision and she along with event planner Camille Fanfair expanded it. Tamafest of 2017 was the Tompkins’ merchants’ family’s first successful outdoor event with 3,000 people in attendance.
Greg Anderson, the current president of BSDC, has shared in the vision for TAMA, and has been instrumental in making Tompkins Avenue the model for diverse small businesses working together. Bedford-Stuyvesant is a tourist destination – which translates to small businesses making a profit.
Community growth and development are more than hopes and dreams for me. The TAMA organization infrastructure now has an active Board Vice President, Michael Brooks, and a Secretary of the Treasury, Ayo Agbede.
And my business has grown, as well — on Tompkins Avenue and beyond. Each business, in some way, continue the dreams of my mother who passed in 2021. We support each other and we are committed to taking care of business by taking care of the community at the same time.
My most recent venture is The Bush Doctor Crystal Factory at 275 Flatbush Avenue Ext. But my first entrepreneurial love is my TAMA home and family. My goal is to continue making Tompkins Avenue a tourist destination.
Along Tompkins Avenue, Partners Travel Road to Success
For the past 6 years, Tiecha Merritt, President of TAMA, and Omo Holloway, COO, BSDC have worked together supporting “the economic resiliency and increasing the visibility” of Tompkins Avenue in Bed Stuy.
According to Ms. Holloway, “through our strong partnership, TAMA membership grew and foot traffic of TAMA Summerfest, pre-COVID, and other community-based initiatives, TAMA increased foot traffic and attracted a diverse retail mix to the corridor while preserving the culture and spirit of the neighborhood.
“The Open Streets initiative on Tompkins Avenue (TAMA Sunday) was a rare opportunity for us, with the TAMA member merchants, to improve foot traffic for businesses and create a safe open space for the community during the pandemic. This Department of Transportation program was not easy to get approved, but we made it happen last year, our first year.
“With the resources provided by Bridge Street and the investment of TAMA, we offered weekly eclectic programming combined with the old school block party vibe. We created a destination location, a “vibe” that local residents and new neighbors could enjoy during a very challenging time in NYC. Most importantly, visitors to TAMA Sunday patronized the businesses. This was always the goal.
“Many of the TAMA businesses were able to recoup their losses during Covid due to the success of TAMA Sundays—for 21 weeks from May to October in 2020.”