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10/7/04 - Miami Herald


Couple's community work lauded

An enterprising couple spent $500,000 to acquire and renovate a dilapidated building that is now a mini-shopping plaza housing three small businesses.

By Brighton Watambwa

A building that stood as an eyesore is now a mini-shopping plaza that houses a grocery store, barber shop and beauty salon, bringing an economic boost for a community that needs it.

Phillips Plaza, a 10,000-square-foot building at 9100 NW 17th Ave., was dedicated Saturday with guests including Miami-Dade Commissioner Dorrin Rolle and Miami-Dade mayoral candidate Jimmy Morales.

The owners, Elrod and Veronica Williams, said they spent three years and about $500,000 -- 80 percent of it their own money.

The couple received some assistence from Miami-Dade County, the Office of Community and Economic Development and the Community Development Block Grant program, as well as the Neighbors and Neighbors Association (NANA), a grass-roots organization.

The grocery store includes a full kitchen that offers shoppers hot meals any time. Rolle made the first breakfast purchase.

Elrod Williams' vision for the shop is a ''growing as a community-based store.'' The business now employs 14 people and he hopes to begin a pick-up and drop-off trolley service that will shuttle elderly people to the store and back to their homes early next year.

The barber shop is called Classy Cuts.

Williams, who was born in the Virgin Islands, followed in his father's footsteps and became a builder. With his wife Veronica's help, he designed the plaza in a Mediterranean style.

''I'm a builder. I wanted to get away from the usual beer and cigarettes,'' he said, referring to other stores in the area.

''Setting up the plaza was a task and at times we got frustrated,'' Veronica Williams said. ``Every dollar we had we put into this building. Any property we had we sold it and put all the money in here.''

Their main inspiration for the plaza were their four children, whom they wanted to grow up proud of their parents and to show them that they can make a difference.

On that score they don't have to worry.

''They did a great job and they're the best parents in the world,'' said son Eldridge, 13. ``It was hard work and they came home late often.''

But the parents have even bigger plans. They want to acquire another rundown building next to the plaza and convert it into a meat and fish market in the next few months.

In the longer term, they hope to buy land and build up to 300 homes for low-income families.

Their work so far has already attracted attention. State Rep. Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall, D-Miami, presented them with a county proclamation acknowledging their work in their community.

Tangie White, director of economic development for Miami-Dade County, complimented the Williamses for investing time and money to buy and revitalize the old building.

And she felt ``honored to make the acquaintance of Elrod and Veronica. They are just great people.''

Leroy Jones, director of NANA, said the couple showed others they, too, can make contributions toward the community. Residents should support the businesses in the plaza, he said.

Residents were already impressed.

''I watched him from the time he started building this place,'' said Cecil Monford, 48, who lives across the street from the plaza. ``It's good for my family and it's a good black economic footprint.''

For Viola Blackshear, 77, it means no long trips for some services.

''I think it's nice to have this in the area,'' she said. ``We don't have to go so far anymore.''