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Shut down by COVID, Houston nightclub transforms into grocery store to support Black vendors

Before COVID-19 disrupted life across the country, a Houston nightclub called District 1960 was host to some of the hottest musical acts, including Megan Thee Stallion and Moneybagg Yo.

But when the pandemic forced the venue to shut down, it meant no more customers and no more income for business owner Robert Thomas.

"They told me I was non-essential," he told CBS News' Omar Villafranca. "It made me rethink who I am, what my purpose is."

That's when a new idea sprouted up. Thomas could still bring people together — not to bop, but to shop, at his own grocery store.

The space, which opened in November, is now called District Market Green Grocer. Instead of musical acts, it features frozen goods, fruits and veggies, and a busy juice bar. 

Thomas not only transformed the venue into one of the city's first Black-owned supermarkets, but also took on a new mission: creating a platform for Black vendors. 

"Right now, everything in here comes from a Black vendor," he said.

This comes as Black business ownership dropped 41% during the pandemic, the highest of any racial group, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. 

The products at Thomas' store come from 40 Black vendors selling things like meat, produce and spices. 

One of those vendors is My Mark 61 Cattle Co., which sells grass-fed meat. Owner Emory Davis said his small business can't handle the volume required for bigger grocery stores, so before he makes it big, he's starting small. 

"This is a good outlet because you're able to grow with him," Davis said. "He's starting. And then once he gets another location, hopefully you can grow with that and then you'll be able to supply that next location."

Another vendor is Signature Sudz. Owners Robb and Jessica Tannan said they started making their own soaps and solvents to use at their laundry business after supplies dried out at the beginning of the pandemic. 

"My amazing husband found some recipes, he found ways to put the ingredients together, and we basically rolled out our product to our laundry clients first," Jessica Tannan said.

They're now selling those products at Thomas' new store, hoping business will bubble up.

"To be able to start at these markets and build the customer base, build the product recognition, that's super important," she said. "And to do it with a community like what Robert is building is just super. I mean, it's just a win."

Thomas, who did not have any experience in grocery stores, said he'd never imagined his nightclub would turn into this.

"No, no way. You could never have told me I would have become a grocer," he said. "I wanted a bigger club downtown, somewhere, something like that."

Now he has different plans — for his supermarket: "I want locations all over the world."

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