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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with William Fonvielle, August 2, 2002. Interview R-0174. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Factors leading to economic decline of black-owned businesses

In this illuminating passage, Fonvielle explains how local businesses gradually lost economic autonomy. The growth of chain stores, the lack of adequate product supplies, and the black church's decreased church attendance and economic self-sufficiency all resulted in a marked decline for black owned businesses. Nevertheless, Fonvielle resolves to remain in business as long as possible to preserve the history of the community.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with William Fonvielle, August 2, 2002. Interview R-0174. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

KIERAN TAYLOR:
I suppose also with the price of drugs now there's just nothing there.
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
That's the thing. You can't carry anybody with the price of drugs. The average drug now that you dispense, the average drug is fifty dollars a bottle. That's just on an average. Hell, most of them are a hundred dollars. You still have your cheaper drugs that bring the price down, but it's unbelievable, and every time they come in the door, you've got a price increase. To be truthful, I don't know how I'm existing. People say, "Well, how do you stay down there," and I go, "By the grace of God." It is tough, real tough. I'm not ashamed to say it on my W-2 last year, I made five thousand dollars. That meant I made five thousand dollars out of here. Of course, I have other interests and things that kept me going, but had it not been, I could not have survived working for Savannah Pharmacy.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
That's [unclear] poverty.
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Yeah. I think I would, it's two things that stopped me from selling this store. One, there is a need in this community because the closest pharmacy is Broughton, CVS at Broughton and Bull. Secondly, the legacy. Those are the only two things that stopped me from selling this store because it's just not a money making venture anymore. I put so much of my inheritance in here until sometimes I look in the mirror and how foolish can you be, but I'm able to pay people, and I'm able to carve out a little for myself.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
But you're, a lot of it's almost inertia at this point?
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Yeah. Nothing like it used to be. I mean, we used to make money. I was cleaning out my office because I'm just like my aunt. She's a packrat, and so am I. I looked around, and I said some of this stuff's got to go. Of course, you don't want to throw anything without looking to see what it is. I ran across the books for 1961, '62, '63 and '64. Man, they were making money back in those days. We had a fountain that was generating a hundred dollars a day.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
That was at the old store.
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
When we brought the fountain, we brought the fountain from the old store down here. It used to be over here where all the space back there is. That, the fountain used to be here.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
That was ice cream—
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Ice cream, sodas, shakes yeah and knick-knacks. But as time went on that too, it just wasn't profitable.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
You couldn't make money off the ice cream?
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
See we made ice cream down here because we had the whole set up. That was a separate, see we had ten thousand square feet. We had three thousand square feet for the ice cream. We had walk in coolers. It was a big business, but when the white man saw how much money that was being made from this ice cream, all of a sudden we couldn't get the ingredients anymore like the flavoring and the cream that we needed. So we had to stop making ice cream because we couldn't get the stuff. There again, we knew what was going on. But what could we do? Racism put us out of the ice cream business. So we bought ice cream when we came down here, but it still was a good quality of ice cream, and we did real well with it. But then you had your thirty-one flavors and what have you coming in, and everybody up and down, Starvin' Marvin, everybody had a little ice cream thing. Then Sundays was our biggest day because kids used to go to church. Now kids don't go to church anymore. On any given Sunday, I guess we would have probably a hundred kids come in here. You see. That equates into dollars. If you were to have a fountain in here now, you'd be doing good to have twenty kids come in here. Then the churches, see, everybody gets greedy. The churches start selling doughnuts and sodas and everything. Don't go over there. You can buy it right here. Everything works against you. So we finally did away with the fountain. We sold it for fifty dollars, and the guy took it out of here, Bradley the packrat. He came and got it.