After nearly a year of negotiations and renegotiations, entrepreneur Tony A. Reimonenq Jr, his wife, and their three sons have purchased a 20-unit strip mall in Hattiesburg, Mississippi’s Oak Grove community that they plan to transform into a local version of Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Historic Greenwood District, also known as the original Black Wall Street.
With this purchase, the family joins the 3% of African Americans in the state who have independently negotiated a million-dollar deal. The business will be known as Greenwood Plaza, and it will be the second major commercial expansion for their family-owned company, Reimonenq & Co LLC.
The purchase brings the Reimonenq family one step closer to their goal of recasting the historic Black Wall Street of Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Greenwood District as well as the unsung Black Wall Street of Mound Bayou, Mississippi. The family wishes to follow in the footsteps of others by empowering and equipping individuals to become entrepreneurs.
“I’ve always had a heart to help others succeed, but to do that I first had to succeed,” says Tony, who is CEO of the family business. “I’ve dreamed of having a location from which others like myself can work and draw inspiration from Tulsa’s Greenwood District.”
“I want to empower the people at the bottom of the pyramid who just need an opportunity,” he added. “They aren’t lazy. They work hard but just haven’t learned how to win yet. I know how and want to link up with them to be a part of helping to not only change the trajectory of their lives and the lives of their families but of our communities as a whole. I see it as a civic duty.”
Tulsa’s Greenwood District
When O.W. Gurley, a wealthy businessman from Arkansas, moved to Tulsa in 1906, he established Tulsa’s Black Wall Street. Gurley built a store on 40 acres of land he bought and named the street after the Mississippi town of Greenwood. After building a hotel and a mason lodge, he sold land to other African Americans, who started their own businesses and services.
Janita Stewart, District Director of the Small Business Administration, believes that small businesses and their growth are critical to Mississippi’s economy, and she sees Greenwood Plaza as an important component in nurturing and sustaining local ventures. It is ideal for trade schools, supply stores, barber shops, beauty salons, insurance, real estate brokers, medical offices, lending institutions, caterers, florists, and corporate meetings or events.
“Having a resource to help someone start a business or grow an existing one under the same roof is a great asset,” she says. Small businesses and entrepreneurs require a variety of resources to do what they do best: create, manufacture, sell, or provide a viable service.”
Despite the pandemic, there has been a net increase in small businesses over the last few years. According to the US Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy, Mississippi small businesses increased slightly from 262,272 to 264,858 in 2013, with some of these new ventures born out of necessity.
“When small businesses succeed, so does the economy,” she adds.
Successful entrepreneur Dee Brown believes such services are critically important to the success of small businesses. Dee is the Founder and CEO of The P3 Group, Inc., the nation’s largest African American-owned, public-private partnership real estate development firm with several offices spread throughout the country, including Jackson, MS. He is also a member of the FORBES Real Estate Council and has been a mentor and associate of Tony for more than a decade. He comments, “Training is important because inadequate management is one of the leading causes of small business failure. Most small business owners fail because they lack access to capital, have poor management, or fall victim to poor planning and execution.”
Sealing the Deal
Tony admits that negotiating the deal was difficult. He had a “gut feeling” to buy the sprawling property three years ago, even though it wasn’t for sale at the time. He was drawn to the property and would drive by to look at it, imagining how he could use it. When realtors London and Stetleman put up a for sale sign, Tony came in with an offer that was lower than their asking price. When both parties agreed on a price for the sale, Tony ran into difficulties. Several banks declined his loan request, citing concerns about equity sufficiency, timing, or stating that they were unable to finance “the type” of loan he required. But he persisted.
“I had a strong feeling that just wouldn’t go away,” recalls Tony. “I continued talking and going back and forth negotiating with lenders to make it work.”
Reimonenq’s determination to succeed was also fueled by painful business experiences in the past. These are the kinds of experiences he wants others to avoid.
When asked to describe a negative experience, he mentioned “being priced out of prime locations.”
After a few months, he unexpectedly struck a creative financing deal that provided him with an even better rate and terms than the banks. Nonetheless, he proceeded with caution, taking care to consider every word in the fine print.
“Several times it looked like it wasn’t going to happen, and other times it looked like we were off to the races,” says Tony.
As the process progressed, Tony became aware of a binding clause in the contract that could have been fatal to his business if he had rushed to sign. Despite the fact that the clause was legal and common practice, he was unaware of its implications. So he was prepared to back out of the deal.
“There were some practices that I personally had never faced before until this point,” he says. “You can’t assume everything is straightforward. Even with good credit, a good down payment, and business history, you can still face roadblocks.”
Tony successfully expanded Reimonenq & Co., LLC into a more profitable enterprise that could now help manifest his vision of empowering and equipping other minorities to dream and achieve once he stated his final terms.
Bruna Bezerra of B & Co Realty believes that the Plaza is exactly what the area needs to promote business growth.