The banner stretched across the ceiling in Papa's Grocery, a hand-painted likeness of Patsy Brown in the middle, said it all: "In Loving Memory to a Wonderful Person and Dynamic Business Leader."
Businesswoman Patsy Brown died of cancer Jan. 23, but friends say her legacy of community commitment and caring for others will live on.
"She was just a great person, very warm," said Muhammad Nasserdeen, president of Crenshaw-based Recycling Black Dollars, a group that promotes black-owned businesses. "After the riots, her place was untouched while a lot of other places were in ashes. There's a reason for that."
Brown was a successful entrepreneur who, along with her family, religiously practiced the credo of locating and investing in the black community. Although Brown and her husband, Herbert, were most visible as owners of Papa's Grocery at Vernon and Van Ness avenues, it was their scrap metal and construction businesses that, until recent years, gave them a solid financial base. Brown's Metal and Salvage once sold more than $40 million in recycled copper to Japanese companies.
Brown's contracting company was building a 47-unit luxury condominium development in Baldwin Hills until the real estate market sputtered, forcing construction to cease in 1991.
Though it may have been the Brown family's least profitable venture, 9-year-old Papa's Grocery was well-known for its immaculate appearance, quality merchandise and impeccable service. Brown took pride in making the store a model small business geared to serving the community.
Shelves were well-stocked with African American and Caribbean foods produced locally or imported. Brown also delighted in spending many hours each day in the back office of her store, hashing out deals with suppliers or chatting with customers.
"She loved everyone, and was just so kind and considerate," said Birdie Glover, a Crenshaw resident and longtime friend of Brown's. "She would do anything in the world for you."
Brown relished the fact that Papa's Grocery gave youths an opportunity to earn money as checkers and grocery baggers. She said the work changed young people's lives by making them adhere to a service ethic that forbade rudeness and stressed customer satisfaction. After her business was left unscathed by the 1992 riots, Brown became a favorite subject for the media, who sought stories on successful black businesses.
Nasserdeen said his organization has already taken measures to ensure that Brown will not be forgotten. "We've already created a Patsy Brown Award to give every year to a deserving business owner," he said. "We can't let that kind of energy die."
Brown is survived by her husband, Herbert; sons Dennis and Patrick; eight grandchildren, and a grandmother, Lillian Harris.