Miss Jackson. (AP) — When John Tierre opened his restaurant in Jackson’s abandoned Farish Street Historic District, he was inspired by the neighborhood’s past as a cultural center for black economic independence in Mississippi and helped usher in a renewed Attracted by the prospect of boom times.
Sitting on the empty, sun-drenched patio of Johnny T’s Bistro and Blues this week, he bemoaned all the business he’s lost because of polluted water running through his pipes — like other users in the black city, if they’re lucky , they have a population of 150,000. Enough to withstand any pressure – the revival he and others envisioned is highly questionable.
“The number of people at lunch was very small,” Thiel told The Associated Press. “They may move their operations to suburbs that are not flooded.”
Torrential rains and flooding on the Pearl River in late August exacerbated problems at one of Jackson’s two treatment plants, causing pressure to drop across the city, where residents were already boiling due to poor water quality.
Most customers have returned to service, officials said Saturday. But the water crisis has exacerbated financial pressures from labor shortages and high inflation. The flow of consumer money from Jackson and its crumbling infrastructure to the city’s suburbs has hit Black-owned businesses hardest, owners said.
Another black entrepreneur hit is Bobbie Fairley, 59, who has lived in Jackson her whole life and owns Magic Hands Hair Design on the city’s south side.
On Wednesday, she canceled five appointments because she needed high-pressure water to rinse chemical treatments from clients’ hair. She also had to buy water to wash her hair to try to fit in any date she could go to. When customers don’t come in, she’s losing money.
“It’s a big burden,” she said. “I can’t afford it. I can’t afford it at all.”
Jackson was powerless to solve the water problem. Over the past few decades, the tax base has eroded as the population dwindled, the result of a predominantly white flight to the suburbs that began about a decade after the merger of public schools in 1970. Today, the city is more than 80 percent black and 25 percent poor.
Some say the uncertainty facing black businesses fits a pattern of adversity caused by natural disasters and political decision-making.
“It’s a punishment for Jackson because it’s open to the idea that people should be able to go to public schools and that people should be able to go into public places without abuse,” said Marty Jones Primm, who owns Marshall Music and Bookstore , he owns the Marshall Music and Bookstore near Johnny. T’s. “So some of us fled to the suburbs.”
According to a 2018 Congressional Budget Office report, Prim sees Jackson’s longstanding water problems — which, according to a 2018 Congressional Budget Office report, can be traced in part to federal spending on water utilities in the 1970s Peaking – made worse by the inaction of Mississippi’s predominantly white, conservative-dominated legislature.
“For decades, this has been a vicious attack, not a benign one. It’s purposeful,” Prim said.
Political leaders don’t always agree. Jackson’s Democratic mayor, Chokwe Antar Lumumba, blamed decades of deferred maintenance for the water problem, while the Republican governor blamed it on water. Tate Reeves said they stemmed from mismanagement at the city level.
Last Monday, the governor held a news conference about the crisis, and the mayor was not invited. The other took place later in the week when they both showed up, but Prim said it was clear the two were not together.
“The lack of cooperation illustrates the constant punishment Jackson must endure,” she said.
Under normal circumstances, Labor Day weekend is a busy time for Johnny T’s. The college football season attracts loyal Jackson State fans who watch road games on flat-screen TVs in the tavern or from the stadium after home games. But this weekend, many regulars were busy stocking up on bottled water to drink or boiled tap water for cooking.
Even as revenue plummeted, Tierre’s expenses increased. He spends $300-500 a day on ice cubes and bottled water, not to mention canned soft drinks, tonics, and other stuff usually served with a soda gun. He brought his employees in a few hours earlier than usual so they could wash dishes with boiling water and stack excess soda cans first.
Overall, Tierre estimates he’s spending an extra $3,500 a week. Customers pay the price.
“You have to pass some of that on to the consumer,” Tierre said. “Right now your Coke is $3 and there’s no refill.”
At a water distribution point south of Jackson this week, local resident Lisa Jones brought empty paint buckets to fill so her family could shower. In a city with crumbling infrastructure, Jones said she felt trapped.
“Everyone can’t move right now. Everyone can’t go to Madison, Flowwood, Canton and all the other places,” she said, citing three other affluent suburbs. “If we could, believe me, it would be a dark sight: houses would be blocked off street by street, block by block.”
Michael Goldberg is a member of the Associated Press/US State Capitol Journalism Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit, national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to cover undercover issues. Follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/mikergoldberg.