Stratford Avenue in Bridgeport, Connecticut’s East End was once a thriving community – with the Mohican grocery, a greengrocer called Tony’s, a pharmacy, and a beauty parlor. Anthony Stewart grew up there, and his mother, a beautician, worked in the shop.
“We used to play in the parking lot behind the beauty parlor, and she would walk us over to the Newfield library, which was really an anchor to the community,” he said. “So much of that went away in the 70s and 80s – stores started closing, and it just snowballed.”
Now, after years of disinvestment, a new grocery store and retail plaza is about to rise up on Stratford Avenue, and the project’s developer, Anthony Stewart, has a vision of a brighter future for the East End.
His company, Ashlar Construction, LLC, recently closed on a $2 million loan from the Leviticus Fund to support the Honey Locust Square development on Stratford Avenue. The nearly 2.5-acre site will feature a two-building, 10-unit shopping center, and the anchor tenant will be a full-service grocery store. The center is located in a USDA-designated food desert neighborhood.
The loan is the first to be disbursed under the Leviticus Fund’s EDREE (Empowering Diverse Real Estate Entrepreneurs) initiative. Lending through EDREE will empower diverse real estate developers to shape the future of underserved communities, and in the process increase their incomes, strengthen their businesses, and elevate their family net worth.
EDREE was established to help remove both historic and contemporary barriers to capital while providing technical assistance, and create pathways for people of color to flourish in the business community.
With Ashlar Construction, Anthony Stewart is not only rebuilding the bustling neighborhood of his youth, but lifting up the whole community. “When I drive down some side streets, I see people fixing up some of their properties. I see it being a catalyst for the revitalization of the East End,” he said.