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City may pursue cosmetics company

The company, started in 1911 by the daughter of sharecroppers, might also bring the city its first African-American museum.

By SHARON BOND

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 26, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- A decision on whether the city will spend money to bring a cosmetics manufacturing company here could come in the next 45 days. Not only would Madame C.J. Walker Enterprises Inc. be a source of new jobs, it would be the genesis for the first African-American museum in the city.

Joseph Johnson, director of economic development for St. Petersburg, visited the company headquarters in Indianapolis and the manufacturing facility in Louisville, Ky., earlier this month.

"I think it would be an asset to the city if it is a prudent business deal," Johnson said.

He still is reviewing the company's financial records and is the one who eventually will recommend whether the city should officially pursue the company.

Sarah Breedlove McWilliams Walker, daughter of African-American sharecroppers, created Madame C.J. Walker in 1911 to sell hair-care products she created, including chemicals that aided in straightening hair. Walker is said to be one of the first women in America to make a $1-million. Her products sold nationwide and in some foreign countries.

Walker died in 1918, according to a biography of her written by her great-great granddaughter, A'Lelia P. Bundles.

If enough of the right kind of artifacts remain, they could be the basis for the first African-American Museum in the city. Johnson said that was a vital element in moving the company here. He said such a museum would attract African-American tourists and history buffs.

In 1986 the Randolph family of Indianapolis -- husband, wife and two daughters -- bought Madame C.J. Walker, which by that time was a much smaller company. The Randolphs became interested in moving to St. Petersburg late last year.

Estimates are that Madame C.J. Walker could provide as many as 150 jobs in St. Petersburg.

The Randolphs have asked the city for a $1-million grant and a $2.1-million line of credit to move the company here and get the museum started. The grant would be an economic development initiative grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development that would be requested and received by the city. The credit line would come from a Community Development Block Grant.

Johnson said if the city decides to go after the company, it would negotiate over the requested financial aid.

"We wouldn't do a deal unless we could see getting the museum, the manufacturing facility and the corporate headquarters," Johnson said.

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