If the smooth marbled walls and concrete floors of 212 E. Clay St. could talk, the stories they’d tell — stories of determination, grit and the depths of the human spirit.
Inside this space in Jackson Ward, where those stone elements complement the warmth of wood accents and cheerful flower bouquets, history meets modern day, and it’s that link between past and present that Jevata Herman hopes to nurture.
Herman is owner of Lily Black LLC, an events venue in the works inside 212 E. Clay St.
The 1,555-square-foot space was once part of the lobby of the Mechanics Savings Bank, an institution founded in 1901 by John Mitchell Jr., an influential newspaper editor, entrepreneur and politician; a man who ran for governor in the early 1920s on an all-Black Republican ticket called Lily Black.
“Historic Jackson Ward, being the birthplace of Black entrepreneurship ... I thought it would be amazing to have a space right here in the city,” Herman said. So she pursued and bought the space when the former tenant left more than a year ago.
“We wanted to keep some of that history and share it with the community,” she said.
Herman is waiting on occupancy permits from the city but plans to open in late spring or early summer.
However, she’s no stranger to the building, which today includes 11 residential condos on upper floors and six commercial spaces on the ground level. She already has a hair salon — Canvas The Salon — in one of those commercial spaces next to where Lily Black will operate.
As a hairstylist and self-proclaimed “people person,” Herman said her clients often talk to her about their lives, and they often solicit her suggestions for city venues to accommodate small bridal or baby showers, birthday parties and other events.
Herman said there are few Black-owned events spaces that exude the sort of historical significance found inside Lily Black, and she hopes to be able to preserve that legacy through her business.
Jackson Ward — once called the Black Wall Street of the South — celebrated its 150th anniversary last month.
“Lily Black is a great win for Jevata and for Richmond,” said Nadia Anderson, Herman’s longtime friend, client and accountant, but also a collaborator when it comes to the events venue business as both women are opening events spaces. Anderson operates Virginia Grace Event Management.
“We support one another in business and life [and] ... strategize through the difficulties and celebrate all the wins,” Anderson said. She said the life of a creative “solopreneur” can be isolating, “especially as a Black woman in Richmond.”
Anderson called events planning a “silent passion” for Herman because Herman often plans events for close friends and families. Add to that being a hairstylist, where clients often open up and share their lives with Herman, Anderson said, and “it just feels so organic” that Herman wanted to open an events space.
Herman is “trying to care for her clients, but in a different way,” Anderson said, and “Lily Black is an extension of that.”
She added: “[Herman] uncovered a jewel and brought it back just in time for the celebration of 150 years of Jackson Ward.”
Herman said the Lily Black space was mostly move-in ready. She freshened it up by painting the concrete floors and updating countertops throughout, while adding large communal dining tables and other decor.
Once open, Herman said guests will be able to bring in their own caterers and other vendors, though she’ll be working to establish partners for services so that the space can be 100% full-service.
Herman said she’s optimistic about business because individuals “are starting to feel a little more comfortable doing smaller, intimate gatherings” as more people are vaccinated against COVID-19.
Enjoli Moon is founder of Richmond’s Afrikana Film Festival and more recently, The JXN Project, in which she and her sister, Sesha Joi Pritchett-Moon, are diving into Jackson Ward’s history to reveal its cultural and economic significance within Richmond and beyond.
That Herman is creating her events space within a building that was built within the Black community, for the Black community, “is not lost on me,” Moon said, particularly because the reality is that many of those Black-owned buildings within Jackson Ward and elsewhere are “leaving Black hands.”
“Jevata’s really connected — she genuinely cares about the space and the people,” Moon said.
Mitchell’s Mechanics Savings Bank was one of the earliest banks for the Black community, she said, and it’s “a very unique and specific space.”
Lily Black’s presence in a building that was part of a thriving Black economy brings it full circle.
“It’s an exciting opportunity [because] as we emerge from these moments of solitude” brought on by the pandemic, Moon said, “we’ll be looking for opportunities to be able to go into a space that is extremely intentional.”
The Black community, she said, can “congregate and celebrate each other in spaces in buildings owned by us and in buildings built by us.”