As three Johnson C. Smith University students walked into Archive CLT for a recent field trip, they were met with a mélange of artifacts both consisting of and celebrating Black history.
They first stopped at a wall-spanning mural done by local artist Sade Black depicting titans from Black cultural history ranging from Harriet Tubman to photographer Gordon Parks to OutKast emcee André 3000. As they turned around, their eyes were met with a wall of Black ephemera for sale — magazines, stickers, posters, art, books, etc. — including original copies of Malcolm X’s canonical autobiography, a rare Toni Morrison Newsweek cover and stacks of Jet and Ebony magazines.
As their eyes traveled to the back of the shop, in sharp relief of the bold, black accent wall stood an MC Lyte tour jacket from 1993, part of owner Cheryse Terry’s personal collection.
“It felt like I was in my grandmother’s house looking at old magazines,” reflected JCSU senior Sierra Holland. “Looking at the art was like taking a step back in history.”
Holland, like the other two students to visit Archive that day, is a student in my Cultural Studies: Hip-Hop History class at JCSU.
Senior Bill Thomas had a similar feeling to Holland. “When I first walked into the shop it felt like I was walking into greatness because one of the first things I saw was MC Lyte’s jacket hanging right in front of me, and I thought that was so cool.”
Located in a shopping center at the corner of LaSalle Street and Beatties Ford Road, just over a mile from Charlotte’s only HBCU, Archive CLT connects customers across generations with artifacts from Black history.
Cheryse Terry was a collector from the start
Archive CLT founder Cheryse Terry has been interested in collecting Black historical artifacts since she was a young girl. Adopted at 2 days old, Terry found a sense of identity in her parents’ antiques.
“I grew up with my fair share of antique items that I always found interesting,” Terry told Queen City Nerve. “My mother and I used to thrift shop on the weekly for back-to-school, household items and stuff. So, I’ve always had an interest in finding treasures.”
Terry constantly moved around as a child — relocating 10 times in as many years — and as a result her collection’s size regularly ebbed and flowed. She was interested in just about anything that she could get her hands on in thrift and vintage shops around town, including the Value Village on Freedom Drive.
The loss of her mother at age 24 and a devastating house fire shortly thereafter intensified Terry’s interest in collecting. The ephemera, especially old magazines, connected her to her past and helped her to find herself in the midst of loss.
She focused on items from the 1970s, the era when her mother was in her twenties. A 1971 copy of Dick Gregory’s Ebony Magazine cover holds a particularly special place in her heart. As Terry’s collection ballooned, she thought about how to share this passion with her west Charlotte community.
While the entrepreneurial seed for Archive CLT was planted with her 2012 thrift business Vyntage Dreams, the vision began to take more solid shape with her online store, Black Ephemera, through which customers could purchase pieces from Terry’s ever-growing collection.
By 2021, however, she was ready to open her own brick-and-mortar shop. At the behest of an investor, Terry decided to conceptually marry her interest in Black ephemera with a coffee shop. She launched a GoFundMe campaign early that year, raising over $40,000 in 40 days to help reach the $75,000 needed to open the shop.
Reflecting on the process, Terry said she felt confident the community would come through to help.
“I for years have been involved in my community and creating different things around the city for young creatives to be a part of,” she said. “I knew because of the work I’ve already done that it will be able to have sustainability.”
Investors provided the rest of the needed funds, and Terry was able to open Archive CLT in August 2022.
A Black space for a Black neighborhood
Remarkably, Terry was able to complete the fundraising and opening process by depending almost exclusively on Black creatives and professionals. The building itself, home also to a new JP Morgan Chase branch, was built by local Black developer Chris Dennis. Kenya Nicole of By Any Beans Necessary and Justin Hazelton of Leah and Louise helped develop Archive’s food and drink menus.
The shop regularly features treats from Black bakeries and catering businesses like BW Sweets Bakery, Sweet Imalda’s Vegan Bakery, and Woodbrook Kitchen. Terry hired Black architects to renovate the shop and hired a Black muralist to help decorate.
This all-Black, “For Us By Us” creative ethic takes on a renewed significance in light of the ongoing gentrification of west Charlotte. Identified as a Corridor of Opportunity by the city of Charlotte, the Beatties Ford corridor has become a district of increased interest for developers and investors.
Whereas phrases like “urban renewal” and “revitalization” have become dog whistles for racist policies that push out historic residents through sky-high property taxes and rezoning, Terry sees a different possibility for businesses like hers.
“Beatties Ford Road is historically Black … it was literally our Black Wall Street. So being able to be a part of the revitalization of Beatties Ford Road to restore it back to the Black Wall Street that it was, I definitely want [Archive] to be a part of that.”
Using all-Black creatives and professionals in the creation of her shop keeps money circulating in the west Charlotte area rather than pushing out the residents for whom the shop exists in the first place. As a lifelong west Charlotte resident from the Hoskins Road area, Terry sees her shop as a way of giving back to “the side of town that raised her.”
The result of her efforts is a space that is welcoming for people of all generations. Holland’s comment about her grandmother’s house is all part of the plan.
“I love presenting history and aesthetics as very modern … Because the stuff is still relevant to our lives, the story is still adding value to our everyday practices.”
As a result, the shop is foundationally intergenerational, as it is seemingly always populated by folks of all ages. The feel is similar to the historic Black gathering place the Coffee Cup, Charlotte’s first fully integrated restaurant.
Archive offers a similar vibe for a new generation of folks who never got to experience Coffee Cup, which opened in 1947 and closed permanently in 2009 after having moved from its original west Charlotte location the previous year.
“The space felt welcoming and comfortable,” said JCSU freshman Makiya Young after visiting Archive CLT. “People who haven’t visited the Archive are missing out on a great experience.”
Archive CLT serves as a community space
Archive, however, is so much more than a diner and coffee shop. Terry hosts a broad array of community programming at the site. Her after-hours event, A Night at the Den, has featured poetry and music from Charlotte’s premier rappers and poets including Peculiar Hippie, Lute, Mavi, and Cheryl Peace.
Archive CLT has hosted events that include book release parties, readings of Black canonical classics like Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, and story time for its youngest customers. The shop’s manager, Javarian “SkinnyJay” Holey, is deeply involved in Charlotte’s hip-hop scene, having launched a creative collective SkinnyJay and Friends. As such, the shop’s imprint is continually expansive.
On this note, Terry’s vision doesn’t stop at the coffee shop. She’s currently working out the development of a co-working space that is an extension of but distinct from Archive. With six years of corporate experience, Terry felt stifled by the environment.
“When you think of co-working spaces, you don’t think of anything that caters to the needs of Black people and Black professionals,” Terry said.
She wants to change that with a space that is designed for Charlotte’s Black workforce to foster community connection, encourage productivity, and network.
Additionally, Terry’s own ephemera collection will be part of an upcoming exhibit entitled Vault, scheduled to show at the Mint Museum in Uptown from July to October 2023. The show — curated by Jessica Moss — will feature more intimate selections of her collection ranging from furniture to documents.
As an archivist who often feels alienated in credential-heavy museum spaces, Vault is a special experience for someone who went on field trips to the Mint as a child, Terry said.
“As a teen mother, someone who never went to college, it’s just every time I look at museum jobs, it just seems so far-fetched,” she told Queen City Nerve. “Everybody wants you to have a Ph.D in fine arts … In my mind, I was never going to do anything in the museum.”
My class trip to Archive also seemed to serve as a milestone of sorts.
“I never even stepped foot in the college, and now somebody is using this as a field trip in academia,” Terry reflected after the visit.
While Archive CLT’s imprint is ever-expanding, the shop remains rooted in the community from which it sprang. The space is centered to be an ethos of love and generosity.
SkinnyJay hosted my students from down the street after the shop closed to ensure they had ample time to explore the magazines. The Archive team provided pastries and their signature Wildflower tea drink — lavender, butterfly pea flower, rosewater and lemon — without cost to the students.
The shop is also helpful as, well, an archive. While doing research for my class, I reached out to Archive to see if they had any holdings about the East Coast/West Coast beef of the 1990s. They generously pulled old issues from Word Up!, The Source, and Vibe magazines to help students understand the media coverage surrounding one of hip-hop’s most tragic eras.
As a professor there are few better opportunities for classroom teachers than to help students engage with history in a physical, tangible way.
Holland, my senior hip-hop student, said she won’t forget seeing and holding the physical magazine copies inside Archive because it was so different from most of the reading she does online.
Thomas concurred: “If I had to tell someone what it’s like in there, I would say that it’s like a history museum … there is so much great history in there that you can actually touch and see in person. [It] is just unreal.”
This intersection of history and the present, the modern with the vintage, revitalization with fidelity to community, is exactly the intersection in which Archive CLT is situated.
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