Drivers get off Interstate 20 at Dixie Inn and come into Minden. They see the convenience stores, Dairy Queen, a church or two, businesses along the way, and then reach downtown Minden.
Downtown Minden is a quaint little area with its original brick streets, antique shops, successful restaurants, boutiques, an accounting firm and a bank or two – so what happened to the area these drivers just came through before hitting downtown? Did he miss it?
Long considered the “industrial” district of Minden on “Old” Shreveport Road, several manufacturing businesses are located behind the Shell gas station at the corner of Shreveport Road and Erwin Thompson Drive.
But as motorists continue through this area, it becomes a mecca of small businesses on a major artery into downtown Minden.
Business owner Rodney Welch, of State Farm Insurance, said his business is thriving and has many clients all over town. Welch, who belongs to the Creighton Hill Community Development Corporation (CHCDC), said he doesn’t see the city “neglecting” Shreveport Road, but more could be done.
“They haven’t dropped the ball, but more could be done to promote this area,” he said. “I love this area. It’s a high traffic area and that’s good for the businesses.”
Reports from the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development list the latest traffic count at 11,379 (average daily traffic) as of 2011.
Mary McKinney, owner of Finders Keepers Resale Shop, said she sees a lot of traffic come into her business from Shreveport Road. One of the things the city could do, she says, is to have something akin to a flashing speed limit sign, because the area in which Finders Keepers is located is on the cusp of a sharp curve.
“People walk up and down this road all day long,” she said. “From the tracks to Dairy Queen, the speed limit is 40 mph, and if they (City of Minden) would put one of those signs at certain points, that would help a lot. If we had access to some grants, I think a lot of the business owners here would take advantage of those.”
Historically, many of the homes on the west side of Minden have been rent houses.
“There is kind of a stigma attached to this neighborhood because of how it’s ethnically viewed,” McKinney said. “A lot people ask me if I’m afraid to be here. Those things that are sitting outside (the front of her business) have been there over a year. Nobody has ever touched anything. It’s not a bad neighborhood.”
At Minden Tire Center, located next to Horton Street, Store Manager Tony Algahim said the main thing impeding the business is the train that runs the tracks nearly every day. Sometimes they may see only two or three customers. On the days the trains don’t run, they will be busy all day, he said.
“That train comes through here three or four days out of the week, and I’m here every day,” he said. “We have business come from Shreveport Road, but whenever that train comes out, we have nothing.”
Another way to promote businesses along the thoroughfare, Algahim feels, is to provide better lighting at night, he said.
“When I leave here (at the end of the day) it’s like an old western movie,” he said. “You can’t see anything. It’s dark as hell.”
And as for the “stigma” of the neighborhood, Algahim said he feels safe.
“I love it here,” he said. “I love Minden. I drive from Bossier (City) every day to work here. I would rather work here than in Shreveport-Bossier.”
Minden City Councilwoman Magaline Quarles, District C, said more could be done to “beautify” Shreveport Road, starting with some business owners, or landowners, taking down dilapidated buildings or renovating them.
“It was my idea to get rid of some of these shanty houses and build affordable homes,” she said. “We wanted this area cleaned up and better houses. If we could do that, our streets would be beautified.”
And since she was not re-elected to the Minden City Council, she said she intends to focus her efforts toward the vision of the CHCDC.
Incoming councilman for district C, Vincen “Cheeze” Bradford, said before he could say what needed to be done to revitalize what he called an “old part of town,” he would need to wait until he took office.
“I’m going to talk to the constituents and see what they want to do,” he said. “I’ve talked to several people and there are several areas that need lighting and some streets improved. As far as Shreveport Road, there’s a lot that could be done. Everybody knows the businesses are moving toward Homer Road and the feeder areas.”
Quarles and Pastor Royal Scott, who heads up the CHCDC, spearheaded the idea to begin work to revitalize the area. Scott said the organization has been endorsed for its efforts by the City of Minden as well as the Minden-South Webster Chamber of Commerce.
Another way to further develop the area is providing decent homes to those who live off Shreveport Road. Unlike some, Scott does feel the area has been let go.
“One of the challenges in the area is that it’s been neglected by the city for so long,” he said. “They’ve done development everywhere else except everything north of Shreveport Road, especially starting at High Street. That area has been neglected. Even the school (the former Stewart Elementary) was torn down, and now it just sits as a vacant lot.”
Members of the organization are focusing efforts on educating the people who live in the area so they can “gain their own financial wealth,” which would also help improve the area.
The CHCDC initiative is to provide affordable housing and has already launched the Wealth Creation Initiative, which hosts classes to educate residents on improving their quality of life by learning to budget their money and improving their credit scores. The goal is to redevelop the Crichton Hill area.
“We’ve been helping people get their credit straight, their finances straight and start developing their own wealth,” Scott said. “There are good businesses here, but the challenge is the areas around the businesses, especially on the north side of Shreveport Road. When you look beyond the businesses, you don’t see anything attractive, no attractive homeowners. We’ve started with this area, but our total vision is for all the blighted properties in Minden.”