Summer Avenue has slowly become a melting pot of Memphians | Culture & Leisure

The 6-mile stretch of downtown known as Summer Avenue has been home to hundreds of local shops and restaurants over the years. In 1952, the first Holiday Inn in the United States was placed on Summer, at the corner of Mendenhall. The first McDonald’s in Memphis was on Summer Avenue, where you could buy a hamburger for fifteen cents. They have both since been demolished.

The Malco Summer-Drive In is one of the few drive-in theaters in the United States. Almost anyone who grew up in the Memphis area in the 70s and 80s remembers bowling at Imperial Lanes or skating at Skateland. Summer Avenue has had many names over time: AW Willis, Highway 70, Bristol Highway, The Highway of America, and more recently known as Nations Highway. Since the creation of Summer Avenue, the ethnic diversity of this neighborhood has increased considerably.

Summer Avenue’s history runs deep, and while not all is pretty, it has created a place for merchants from around the world to put down their roots in Memphis.

The 1960s began the integration of schools in the city of Memphis. This led to white flight – a large-scale migration of white people from increasingly racially or ethnoculturally diverse regions. Taylor Wright, who has lived in Berclair for as long as she can remember, said she remembered conversations her family would have had during that time.

“People in Memphis weren’t as open and accepting of this change as you might think,” she recalls. “I remember it seemed like every other day someone left our neighborhood, nobody wanted to be there… It was very sad for me to see even as a little girl. My parents were constantly talking about the changes happening around us, and I remember it going downhill for a while. Stores were closing all summer, but things finally started to pick up.

Wright was right, things started picking up. So much so that the Summer Avenue Merchants Association (SAMA) has designated Summer Avenue as Memphis’ first international neighborhood. In 2019, 6.2% (nearly 40,400 of 651,000) of Memphis’ population was foreign born. Since then, the number of businesses owned by merchants from other nations on Summer Avenue has increased dramatically. Mexican, Israeli, Greek, Chinese, Salvadoran, Japanese and Vietnamese are just a few of the different types of cuisine you can find on Summer Avenue. Raed Radwen, owner of Jerusalem Market and Restaurant on Summer, spoke of the growing diversity of Summer Avenue’s business.

“There weren’t many of us at the start. I remember it was us, a Japanese restaurant and a small Mexican restaurant. I never thought it would look like this now… Very different from before.

Jessica Yager, a frequent visitor to Summer Avenue, said she began to notice more diversity in Summer’s businesses very quickly.

“I come here all the time, my job is just down the street, and if you know Summer, you know you’ll find good food here… Well, I just started seeing signs on doors in different languages. Some were in Spanish, some were in Arabic…I liked that Memphis was starting to be a place for everyone. That’s why I like Summer Avenue. People can say whatever they want, yeah it’s not always perfect, but most of these people are just really good people, man.

The Tennessee Department of Transportation, in 2021, awarded an Urban Transportation Grant to the City of Memphis Planning and Development Division to develop a comprehensive street plan to help guide the future development of Summer Avenue. Construction noise can be heard when driving in the summer today as many changes are made along the avenue. Memphis’ well-known potholes are being filled in and crosswalks are being put in place.

Junior, a man who often walks the streets of Summer Avenue, says it will be a big help to him. “Look, we live in Memphis, you know, people don’t pay attention when they’re driving. I’m homeless so I have to cross the street all the time and it’s too hard to worry about other people. So yeah, I’m glad they put something in here to keep me from getting hit. It will help you. It will help.

Taylor Wright says she hopes the construction will help bring more people to Summer. “It’s no secret that Summer Avenue isn’t the prettiest place in Memphis, and that’s okay. But everyone has to end up somewhere, and that’s where I’m at. Here, people work hard and give their all to what they do. They deserve recognition, they deserve to be packed like all the restaurants you see downtown. Hopefully more improvements will start happening here, because that could turn out to be a really good thing.

” What does it mean ? Is there someone for everyone? Well, there’s room for everyone, too, and that’s mine,” Wright said with a chuckle.

Hanging from the streetlights on Summer Avenue, flags from different countries can be seen along the sidewalk. These flags signify the diversity and inclusion that has taken place in this community over the years. The Summer Avenue Merchants Association says it’s called “Nations Highway” for a reason.

Despite Summer’s unflattering elements, there’s something beautiful about people around the world coming together to support each other through all the adversity that Summer Avenue and its merchants have faced over time.

“You hear people say things all the time about Summer. They say it’s run down, there’s too much crime, there’s just strip clubs and drug stores. liquors, but at the end of the day, that’s not true. It’s all over Memphis, not just here,” Yager said. “You have people here working and doing whatever they can to make this place better. , and until the whole city of Memphis pours out into the communities that need the most support, of course things won’t change. Support your local businesses, and if you want Memphis to be a better place, go show your love to the people trying to make one.