MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis has its share of troubles when it comes to crime. From citizens to businesses, many are growing weary of living in fear.
Some people are saying they’ve had enough and are packing their bags and moving away — but not everyone is ready to give up on the city.
“We have some great food in Downtown and Midtown. It’s a shame people can’t experience that because they don’t feel safe,” said Tony Westmoreland, who owns 10 restaurants in the Memphis area.
He’s seen business change in the last few months.
“We’ve heard from our customers talking about, they don’t feel comfortable getting out at night they don’t feel comfortable leaving their cars parked in the parking lot and restaurants,” said Westmoreland. “Now, it’s not even at night. You got cars getting broken into in the middle of the day.”
Restaurant manager Christopher Anderson noticed something else.
“People are hesitant to stay longer. They’re kind of getting more to-go foods and stuff. They’re coming in and they’re leaving,” he said. “Crowds are dying down when the sun goes down.”
Westmoreland said last weekend, one of his restaurants that is under construction got broken into. He had more stories about the unsolved killing of Shea Grauer outside Zinnie’s in Midtown, and the shooting of a gas station employee across the street from the Overton Park entrance on Poplar.
It’s changed the way he does business. He said his restaurants now use an armored truck service so employees don’t have access to money. It’s an added expense for him.
The restaurant owner and manager say they know that if things don’t change, some businesses may pick up and leave.
“You want nice restaurants, you want nice places to go. If people don’t feel that they can make money here, they’re gonna take you someplace else. And we’re not gonna have any of those things,” Anderson said.
But despite the crime taking its toll, many business owners aren’t ready to call it quits yet.
“We’re not giving up on Memphis,” said Westmoreland. “We’re trying to build out, but those are additional expenses that we incur and it’s difficult to do that, especially now with sales being declining.”
That “sticking with Memphis” mentality is what Pastor Rufus Smith likes to hear.
He moved to Memphis from Houston 13 years ago to take over as lead pastor at Hope Church. He says what the city has to offer is worth fighting for.
It led him to write an op-ed in the newspaper to those who are considering leaving because of crime.
“I recognize that those fears are real,” said Smith. “I do not criticize people for being afraid or saying I’m relocating for my family’s sake to improve your life. That’s not my issue. But to relocate for the sole sake of fear as opposed to fighting. That’s what I’m challenging.”
He says Memphis, with affordable housing and its rich history of entrepreneurship and cultural movements, is worth fighting for.
Members of the clergy are working together to look at how they fit in to find solutions.
“We have said, not only are we going to broaden our trust with each other, but we’re going to choose something that we can all work on, and what we chose was closing the economic gap. That is workforce development.”
They want to make Memphis the place people come and want to stay.
Pastor Smith predicts in five years, Memphis will become the blueprint of how you turn a city around.