Stories Untold: The Prominence of Black Businesses

By Nudar Chowdhury

Postcard featuring interior of Wash and Sons’ Seafood Restaurant in Atlantic City, NJ [ca. 1930–1945] from the Boston Public Library 

The screening of “Our Side: The other Atlantic City” brings attention to the many aspects of the Black community in Atlantic City that had been lost with the arrival and expansion of the casino industry. Throughout the documentary, there is a clear intent to show viewers how present the Black residents have been in Atlantic City, by focusing in on Black-owned businesses such as Wash and Sons’ Seafood Restaurant. This was a very popular location for local, Black residents to spend time with family and friends, in addition to being a hub for celebrities that visited Atlantic City. The restaurant was known for its family friendliness and soul food, in addition to holding a warm place in the hearts of Atlantic City residents. Wash and Sons’ Seafood Restaurant had been in business for 70 years, relocating within Atlantic City several times, but inevitably being driven out of the city with the downturn of the casino industry. Ultimately, the renowned business faced foreclosure completely in 2010.

The unfortunate closing of Wash and Sons’ Seafood Restaurant reveals how incredibly ingrained the Black community is in Atlantic City. Because of the history of segregation, the Black community had to become self-sufficient and create their own means of survival. By learning about this particular business and what some of the residents had to say about the multifaceted economy that existed prior to the casino industry, their self-sufficiency is even more evident.

Many of these businesses were successful and pushed a strong presence of Black residents, who had to establish their own community and networks. However, Black residents explained how the casino industry took a toll on businesses like Wash’s Seafood, due to the competition it brought. Often times, there is an overstatement of how beneficial the casinos were to Atlantic City and the opportunities they brought to the residents. This narrative does not include the struggles of private-owned businesses who had to compete with the casino industry, which not only included gambling, but also restaurants and hospitality. The casinos did not attempt to ingrain the already existing businesses, which is key to revitalization.

Such stories are not part of the dominant narrative of Atlantic City and do not fit the traditional appeal of the casino industry. However, the stories that are heard from Black, Atlantic City residents need to be told over and over again, so that future generations have an understanding of what made Atlantic City what it is today and what it continues to be, regardless of what new industry decides to move in. It is important to have an understanding of what happens to the residents of a place, especially the Black community, when industries come in and do not take into account what already exists. The stories of Black, Atlantic City residents holds a much stronger message for the larger Atlantic City community and economy, and it is more important now than ever to really push such narratives over the watered-down, white-washed ones that seem to always dictate as the narrative.