The heart of Old Town Decatur during the segregation era, Vine Street was once a “thriving and diverse business district,” its streets lined with stores, restaurants, churches, and professional service venues. The section of Vine between Bank Street and First Missionary Baptist Church, in particular, was a significant commercial hub due to its proximity to the Historic Union Depot.
Designed by architect Frank Milburn and built by the Southern Railway Company in 1905, the building served as a passenger station until 1979 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places the following year. Today, it houses the Decatur Union Depot Museum, where numerous artifacts of Decatur’s railway heritage are displayed, including the original ticket booth and 1905 baggage cart.
Across the tracks from the depot, on the opposite side of Vine Street, stood the Southern Café. Owned and operated by Vida Mae Bussey, the restaurant attracted steady business from rail travelers and Old Town residents alike with a menu that included hickory smoked barbecue. It closed after thirty years, and the building (like many others that once stood on Vine Street) was razed as part of “urban renewal” efforts undertaken by the city of Decatur. To see the café as it looked prior to its demolition, stand at the Old Town Historic District signage by the railroad tracks and face south, then tap the image below, grab the arrow on the left-hand side and drag rightward.
Directly across Vine Street from Southern Café, in what is now the parking lot of the Turner-Surles Community Resource Center, stood Busy Bee Market. Owned and operated by the Roberts family, it was one of several Old Town businesses damaged by looters following a 1979 clash between Klansmen and black residents protesting the conviction of Tommy Lee Hines. To see the store as it looked from the south side of Vine Street, tap the image below, grab the arrow on the left-hand side and drag rightward.
In addition to black-owned stores and restaurants, a number of immigrant-owned businesses once operated on Vine Street. The Namie and Shaia families emigrated from Lebanon and Syria, respectively, around the turn of the 20th century, and established dozens of groceries and other successful businesses in Old Town.
We’ll encounter some of these and other notable Vine Street businesses later in the tour. To continue to the next stop, head west on Vine Street from Historic Union Depot and tap the blue button below.