Neverett Eggleston III poses at the counter of a new vegan restaurant venture to the sound of renovation in the background. (Photos by Chance Evans)

by Chance Evans

When Arthur Wilson told me to go inside the noisy, boarded-up business on First Street and meet his cousin, Neverett, another world opened its doors.

The scene was one of complete chaos composed by one man sitting at a counter under construction.  Neverett Eggleston III was like the conductor of an orchestra, directing the posse of workers building the vegan restaurant and connected deli he hopes to open soon.  He gave off an aura of strength and wisdom.

When I asked him about his experience in Jackson Ward, he invited me to sit.  While he has never lived here, he has deeply rooted family connections to the community.

He is a third-generation Eggleston entrepreneur in Jackson Ward.  His grandfather, Neverett Eggleston Sr., owned and developed the famous Eggleston’s Hotel in Jackson Ward, an important cultural landmark that once hosted luminaries such as Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, and Willie Mays.

From left: Neverett Eggleston Sr., Neverett Eggleston Jr., and Neverett Eggleston III. (Photo by Larry Roach, courtesy Black History Museum & Cultural Center Archives).

As a businessman, Eggleston can’t help but admire the economic growth and money coming into the community. That, he said, is “a good thing, a beautiful thing.”

But, he went on, “it’s tragic we don’t have a larger part in it. At one point, all the businesses here were African American-owned. Now they’re almost all white.”  Diversity is a good thing, he said, but “you want equal distribution of property.”

Walking down any given street in the business district of Jackson Ward, one can see the many opportunities for business ventures in the empty and boarded-up shop fronts.

“There is money coming into the community,” said Eggleston, “but it is mostly the white folks who have that money to buy up those buildings and revitalize them.”

Thus proceeds the gentrification of Jackson Ward.  Once an outcast, the neighborhood is even embracing a new role as a Richmond tourist attraction.

In the meantime, Eggleston and other African-American entrepreneurs in the community are working to rejuvenate Jackson Ward while resisting gentrification, the result of a demographic shift that is gradually phasing African Americans out of the community.