Shut down by COVID, Houston nightclub turns into grocery store to support black vendors

Before COVID-19[female[feminine disrupted life across the country, a Houston nightclub called District 1960 hosted some of the hottest musical acts, including Megan Thee Stallion and Moneybagg Yo.

But when the pandemic forced the place to close, it meant more customers and more revenue for business owner Robert Thomas.

“They told me I wasn’t essential,” he told CBS News’ Omar Villafranca. “It made me rethink who I am, what my purpose is.”

It was then that a new idea germinated. Thomas could still bring people together – not to make noise, but to shop, in his own grocery store.

The space, which opened in November, is now called District Market Green Grocer. Instead of musical acts, it offers frozen food, fruits and vegetables, and a busy juice bar.

Thomas not only transformed the place into one of the first black-owned supermarkets in the city, but also gave himself a new mission: to create a platform for black sellers.

“Right now everything here is from a black salesman,” he said.

It comes like Ownership of a black business fell 41% during the pandemic, the highest of any racial group, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

The goods in Thomas’s store come from 40 black vendors selling things like meat, produce and spices.

One such vendor is My Mark 61 Cattle Co., which sells grass-fed meat. Owner Emory Davis said his small business couldn’t handle the volume required for large grocery stores, so before he makes it big, he starts small.

“It’s a good outlet because you can grow with it,” Davis said. “He starts. And then once he gets another location, hopefully you can grow with that and then you’ll be able to provide that next location.”

Another provider is Signature Sudz. Owners Robb and Jessica Tannan said they started making their own soaps and solvents for use in their laundry business after supplies dried up at the start of the pandemic.

“My amazing husband found recipes, he found ways to put ingredients together, and we first rolled out our product to our laundry customers,” Jessica Tannan said.

They are now selling these products in Thomas’ new store, hoping that business will increase.

“To be able to start in those markets and build the customer base, build product recognition, that’s super important,” she said. “And to do it with a community like the one Robert is building is just awesome. I mean, it’s just a win.”

Thomas, who had no grocery store experience, said he never imagined his nightclub would turn into this.

“No, no way. You could never have told me that I would have become a grocer,” he said. “I wanted a bigger club downtown, somewhere, something like that.”

Now he has different plans – for his supermarket: “I want locations all over the world.”

Jerry C. Greiner