City tables decision on reopening ‘historically significant’ cafe

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The fate of Anderson’s Cafe is now in the hands of the Vicksburg Board of Mayor and Aldermen, who on Monday tabled a decision on the reopening of the neighborhood club on First North Street following a 40-minute public hearing.

“With regards to the historical nature of Anderson’s Cafe, I’m all for history and preservation,” said Mayor Paul Winfield, “but what’s disturbing to me is I live right around the street from there, and I know all of the people in the neighborhood and I haven’t heard anybody who lives there have anything positive (to say about it).”

As he told the Vicksburg Zoning Board in his first failed bid to reopen the club last month, building owner Louis Spencer told the mayor and aldermen he was not notified that his business would not be allowed to reopen if it ever closed for more than six months.

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“We were told we were grandfathered in … they never said for any specific time,” said Spencer, who is also one of three surviving members of the popular 1950s band, The Red Tops. “We feel very badly mistreated.”

The club dates back to the 1940s — long before the city’s zoning maps were drawn up in 1971, at which time it was deemed a “non-conforming” business in a residentially zoned neighborhood. According to local ordinance, any non-conforming use of any property loses its exempt status if the use is discontinued for more than six months.

Zoning Administrator Dalton McCarty presented the board with a letter dated Feb. 23, 2009, from former proprietor Charles Clark stating the club had been closed since Aug. 17, 2008. Mayor Paul Winfield said a decision is likely a week from today.

Several citizens spoke on behalf of Spencer’s character as a business owner, and also on the need to preserve the cafe for its historical value. It was known in its early decades as a place where people in the black community could freely express their ideas and opinions about the growing civil rights movement and other issues of the day.

“This is a historical place for Vicksburg; it’s a landmark,” argued Spencer. “People come from all over to find Anderson’s Cafe.”

Charles Marshall, who lives across the street from Anderson’s Cafe, told the mayor and aldermen the club has long since lost all of the positive aspects that once made it historically and culturally important.

“This is a public safety concern and a nuisance … and black history has nothing to do with that. Don’t let it reopen,” said Marshall, who said drug-dealing, excessive noise, loitering, fighting and shooting were common outside the club when it was open. “It’s nothing but negative stuff going on there.”

Spencer argued he cannot control the entire neighborhood, only what goes on inside his business.

“I don’t think we should be blamed for that,” he said of the problems created by those loitering around the club. “Prosecution by association, it looks like that’s what happening.”

Winfield said he expects the owners of nightclubs or bars to take some responsibility for ensuring the area around their business is safe.

“We can’t provide the security you need,” Winfield said. “If we open this place up and someone gets shot outside your place a week from now, they’re not going to blame you, they’re going to blame the folks up here.”

South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman and North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield kept their comments brief, and provided no indication as to how they may vote on the matter. However, both voted for stricter laws on beer sales and club operations last year.

Anderson’s Cafe was the last of just a handful of neighborhood clubs in the city to close following a change in the local beer sales ordinance in May 2008. The ordinance required clubs to close at 10 p.m. Monday through Sunday and not reopen until 1 p.m. on Sunday. It also made brown-bagging — or carrying beer or alcohol into the club — illegal.

The 2008 ordinance was a reversal of a 2004 ordinance change that allowed neighborhood clubs to extend hours until 2 a.m. Police had since said the later closing time brought with it an increase in complaints by neighbors and unwanted crime. Since the ordinance change, the zoning board has denied at least three requests from owners of neighborhood clubs to reopen.


Contact Steve Sanoski at