The Evolution of the National Black Chamber of Commerce – Part 7

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Harry C. Alford and Kay DeBow

Beyond the Rhetoric

By Harry C. Alford & Kay DeBow

Leaving Detroit to take up new residence in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area was quite a contrast indeed. The crime ridden, economically challenged “Motor City” would be missed for the night life and Motown heritage. The “Twin Cities” were modern, clean and tranquil. The subject of “race” would hardly ever come up. It was the perfect place for Kay to begin her long healing period. Our apartment was “Disability Friendly” which was important as I would be on the road in my eight – state district visiting and training my eight sales representatives three to four days per week. Dealing with department stores versus grocery stores was night and day. Grocery store personnel were close to teamsters in their approach and mentality. Department store executives were the “fashion type” – educated and professional.

Regardless of the above, we were in transition mode. Our wedding date was set and the plans for settling down and becoming entrepreneurs were in full swing. First would be venue and second would be what form of entrepreneurship. In our travels, I viewed Indianapolis as a perfect place to raise a family and smoothly blend into a solid middle- class community. It was Kay’s hometown and she resisted the thought for a while. I would finally wear her objection down. Besides, her family bonds were strong, and the people of Indy were easy and peaceful. It was very far away from Detroit. A great place to start a family!

It was set. We would move to Indy whenever the settlement from the MGM fire lawsuit was completed. Ideally, I would convince my employers at Hanes Hosiery to transfer me to the St. Louis District. That would encompass Indy and living there would not be disruptive. My productivity was great, and I was very confident of my persuasive skills (convincing my superiors to go along with the move).

What was going to be our entrepreneurial endeavor once we decided to go independent? A new industry was booming. It was home video. Video stores were in their infancy and customer growth was exponentially growing at record rates. It was the greatest thing since fast food stores. If Hanes rejected my proposal, we would jump in immediately with settlement money to cover our expenses until the new business was up to “speed.”

The time to make our move to Indianapolis finally came upon us. We cut a deal with a rising franchisor known as National Video. Being very anxious we bought two franchises. The first store would be immediate and the next one would follow in 18 months. Hanes Hosiery? I overestimated my persuasive skills. We parted ways amicably. Kay and I bought a five thousand square foot home in a new Indianapolis subdivision – Normandy Farms. It was simply lovely.

The transition was simple for Kay as Indianapolis is her hometown and her relatives were very close. The Stuart Family (her mother’s side) was prestigious and the DeBow Family produced a war hero – a Tuskegee Airman.

Our first video store was on the westside of Indy and the second was on the northeast side of town. It was an instant success! People were going crazy about renting video movies and watching them at home with their loved ones. There was a big delay in top movies leaving the theatre and the waiting time for cable television to offer them. That void would be filled by video stores.

For the first few years we were doing quite well. We expanded to two stores. Then the “Shakedown” would start to occur. When there is a new industry, things are booming, and mistakes are few but eventually the Big Boys would study the situation and begin to move on the “prowl.” In this case, that Big Boy would be a chain known as Blockbuster.

Blockbuster just didn’t move in on our side of town – they came in with 32 stores! They attacked the whole city en masse. It became clear that our end was in sight. After thinking about it, we decided to change endeavors into real estate. I passed the real estate brokers’ license test, got a license and Kay and I became agents with Graves Realty. We closed the video stores as their leases expired.

During all of this, there was a big change in our lives. Our twin sons entered our world on March 5, 1985. It was the greatest day of our lives.

Indeed, and I transitioned into a stay-at-home mother of two babies. What a busy time! We experienced around the clock feedings. I nursed and then Harry patted their backs until they burped. We changed diapers, put them in their cradles next to our bed and we all fell asleep until we heard the next tiny cry. During the day, I handled all the infant duties. Just as The Cosby Show was coming on TV, Harry would walk in the door and I would hand the babies to him.

We didn’t know it at the time, but our lives and destiny were about to make a monumental change. It would have an impact on our entire nation.

Mr. Alford is the Co-Founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Ms. DeBow is the Co-Founder, Executive Vice President of the Chamber. Website: www.nationalbccorg. Emails: halford@nationalbcc.org kdebow@nationalbcc.org.

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