Home > African-American Culture, Crime, Entrepreneurial, Omaha, Writing > After Night of Violence, Downtown Coffee Shop Owner Ponders Venue’s Future

After Night of Violence, Downtown Coffee Shop Owner Ponders Venue’s Future


David Hall is a born entrepreneur, and if savvy instincts and good intentions mean anything then his newT-shirt design and screen printing  business SweeTees should flourish. But the cold reality of business doesn’t much care about whether one’s heart is in the right place or not. The following short piece I did about Hall for The Reader (www.thereader.com) appeared not long after a senseless act of gun play disrupted his previous venture, Terri Lynn’s Coffee Shop, injuring several and scaring many more, and not long before business fell off so badly that he was forced to close. Terri Lynn was his late sister, who herself fell victim to gun violence. The T in his new SweeTees is for her. In addition to his sisters, Hall’s lost others close to him as well to reckless gun violence. He’s trying to do what he can to succeed while paying homage to Terry and giving young black men in the community a positive role model to follow. I am not alone in wishing him well.

 

 

David Hall

 

After Night of Violence, Downtown Coffee Shop Owner Ponders Venue’s Future

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally published in The Reader (www.thereader.com)

Terri Lynn’s Coffee Shop attracted a corps of regulars to its inviting 1618 Harney Street digs before an act of violence changed things. Now, business has slowed to a crawl and owner David Hall is left wondering if the venue, named for his late sister and meant as a safe haven for inner city teens and young adults, can last.

It all went down the evening of Friday, May 13, when a private graduation party turned real life fright night. About 60 people were there when a fight erupted inside. Hall, security staff and chaperones removed the troublemakers and the party resumed. Later, gun shots fired from outside riddled the place. In the ensuing chaos, eight people were injured. One was shot. Some $2,000 in damage was done to the shop, whose register was looted. A week later, an arrest was made and the incident became another statistic in Omaha’s black-on-black crime wave.

Despite taking precautions, Hall feels he was “naive” not requiring a “mandatory guest list. The kids that caused the trouble just slid in,” he said.

The events shook Hall to his core. He couldn’t sleep that night. He couldn’t bring himself to visit the shop that weekend. He contemplated closing for good.

“I felt like a ton of rocks got dropped on me, man. I was so discouraged,” he said. “Then I prayed on it and went to church and it felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. Everybody came up and they hugged me. I thought they were going to blame me more than anything. But my pastor and my community told me, ‘Don’t quit.’ That’s what made me not give up. They wouldn’t let me quit if I wanted to.”

Besides, he said, “Something is telling me, Why penalize all the good kids that come in here for the acts of a few?” Terri Lynn’s had become a live music and dancing hot spot. Hall said there’d been no serious problems until the shooting. He sees what happened as part of a larger, city-wide problem with youth violence.

He has reacted strongly to the shooting because it struck so close to home. His only sibling, Terri Lynn Hall, was fatally shot with her boyfriend in 1994. That same year alone, Hall said, he lost five friends to gun violence. This most recent event was a slap in the face to a man trying to “be part of my community.” The negative pub hurts a fragile business that’s been at its present location just since last fall. He said he faces enough hurdles already as a black small business owner in a white district. Add the fact he’s one part of an interracial couple — his wife Carol is white — and he feels things are stacked against him in a town obsessed with race.

Although an aberration at what’s been a calm spot, he’s afraid the incident brands his place a hazard in the public’s mind.

“I’m a young black dude, man, and it’s hard to beat some of the stereotypes thrown my way. I’m already one of the few minority owners downtown. I didn’t know if people were going to see through all of that — a black on black crime — and be open-minded to what I’m trying to do here,” said Hall, an Omaha native and nephew of Charles Hall, proprietor of North O’s now defunct Fair Deal Cafe.

In an effort to make sense of the violence and to dispel perceptions about Terri Lynn’s as a dangerous place, Hall held “an old fashioned town meeting” there on May 28. The event offered an open forum to discuss the violence and sought donations to help Hall recoup his losses and to pay medical bills of those injured in the melee. Less than two dozen people attended — most of them family and friends. He was discouraged, but he’s not ready to give up on his dream yet.

“I talked to the police and city, and they don’t want me to quit. They want a place for young people to go. They don’t want them to run the streets. That’s what I wish I would of had. That’s what I wish my sister would of had,” said Hall, who plans hiring uniformed officers at parties and installing more surveillance cameras.

“Since Terri passed, I’ve always tried to have a way for her to live on through my life. This is my passion. This is what I want. But as much as I want to be here and to make this work, it’s about dollars and cents now. We were already just getting along, but since reopening May 18 it’s been slow. I’ve refunded six parties we booked. If we don’t have the public coming here supporting the cause, we can’t make it. We’ll remain open as long as we can afford to. I’ve got my rent paid for June, so we’re good for 30 more days. Check back with me then.”

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