In the midst of the 1960s Civil Rights movement, Herbert Bellamy Sr. was an important black entrepreneur investing in the eastside of Buffalo. He founded 1490 Enterprises, Inc., a community center and nexus of African-American political and cultural life, to serve people living along Jefferson Avenue. Decades later, his son Herbert Bellamy Jr. has taken up the mantle, as a developer with a passion for community-driven projects—like renovating his father's old headquarters with support from LISC.
Herb Bellamy Jr. absorbed many lessons in entrepreneurship under the watchful eye of his father, Herbert Bellamy Sr. One of the most important was that a businessman has to be involved in his community.
“My father owned and operated as many as 20 businesses at one time,” Herb Jr. said. “Once you come from an entrepreneurial family, you have an entrepreneurial mind. And when you come up in a community-minded era, you learn to be community-minded as well.”
Raised in a family that was deeply embedded in civic life, it seems that Herb Jr. was destined to become a developer with a passion for community-driven projects. Now he is tasked with revitalizing the very neighborhood where his father made his mark, and he is making it happen through a network of partnerships and support from LISC.
Herbert Bellamy Sr. was raised in Burgaw, NC, the son of a sharecropper, and made his way to Buffalo after graduating from school and serving in the Marine Corps. As Herb Jr. tells it, no single title could do his father justice. He was a mover and a shaker—a successful businessman, a civil service chairman, and a councilmember-at-large. He made local history as the first African American to become a member of the Buffalo Municipal Civil Service Commission and director and vice president of the Buffalo Area Chamber of Commerce.
In 1969, Herb Sr. founded 1490 Enterprises, Inc., a not-for-profit organization to deliver much-needed services to residents living near Jefferson Avenue on the eastside of Buffalo, a historic African-American thoroughfare. He established the organization’s headquarters as a community center in an abandoned liquor warehouse in the heart of Jefferson Avenue. The organization took on issues that troubled the area, like hunger and the need for fair housing and legal aid.
Indeed, the center at 1490 Jefferson Avenue became an invaluable resource within the black community. “This was in the 1960s, the civil rights era. A lot of things were going on and a lot of people were being treated unfairly,” Herb Jr. said. “It was designed to serve people who couldn’t get downtown for services. We had a health clinic right here in the community where people could feel comfortable coming in. We served senior citizens by providing meals and activities, giving them a safe haven to do things during the day.”
Beyond providing essential services, Herb Jr. remembers the community center as a hub for black culture and the epicenter of political life, where leaders gathered to shape the vision for a proud community. It was also where his father taught him the value of building genuine relationships.
“This place is our history,” Herb Jr. said. “This is where people’s grandmothers and grandfathers, uncles, aunts, and cousins met. We had parties with local politicians, governors and presidents. I remember when First Lady Rosalyn Carter came here. This was a prominent place for the community to meet and get things done.”
Herbert Bellamy Sr. died in 2006, and in 2007 the community center had to close its doors due to lack of funding. But the notion of a place where people could gather and take part in their community was very much alive in the mind of Herb Jr. In 2016, he transformed that notion into reality by turning 1490 Jefferson Avenue into Bellamy Commons, home to 30 affordable apartments for families, community space and a children’s playground. It is also the future home of Buffalo’s Black Achievers Museum, another legacy of Herbert Bellamy Sr., who inaugurated an awards program in 1972 that has been honoring influential African Americans from Buffalo ever since.
With an investment of $5 million from LISC and partnerships with Belmont Housing Services for Western NY and Creative Structures Services, the liquor warehouse-turned-community center is once again a nexus of African-American life in the eastside. And it joins other Bellamy projects that are reviving Jefferson Avenue, including the Jefferson Career Center, a job training center for people with disabilities that opened across the street last October. Herb Jr. expects to break ground this spring on a mixed-use site with People, Inc. that will include 84 apartments, as well as commercial spaces, further down the avenue.
Bellamy Commons is LISC’s first project with Herb but it won’t be the last. “We hope there will be many collaborations going forward,” said Mike Clarke, LISC Buffalo executive director. “Herb's vision for Jefferson Avenue aligns with our mission of working with local partners to bring resources, investment and opportunity to Buffalo communities."
Herb Jr. believes that all of this work has been successful because of the partnerships within the community. “That’s where the importance of those relationships came in, getting the right partners that have experience that I could work with to make something exceptional,” said Herb Jr. “That’s been part of our legacy as well. In a lot of ways, my father was ahead of his time and ahead of the game.”
He continues to find inspiration in his late father’s ability to imagine possibilities. “How do you have a vision when you grow up in the middle of a bunch of fields?” he marvels. “But that’s where he came from, and still he came up here and made things happen.” Now his son is expanding on that vision, sparking a new renaissance along Jefferson Avenue.