A business owned by state Sen. Tommie Broadwater (D-Prince George's), one of Maryland's leading black politicians and the county's only black state senator, filed for bankruptcy this week with over $1 million in debts.
The Chapel Oaks Farmers' Market, at 5354 Sheriff Rd., Fairmount Heights, was appraised at over $1.2 million last year and is one of Broadwater's several businesses and real estate holdings, most of which are located in his 24th Legislative District. His other holdings include a half interest in the Ebony Inn bar and restaurant across the street from the market, an Exxon station at 5380 Sheriff Rd., and several pieces of real estate and plots of land in Prince George's, Charles County, and the District of Columbia. Broadwater also runs a bail bonding business out of his home in Glenarden.
Broadwater, 40, asked for protection for his market under Chapter 11 of the federal bankruptcy code in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Rockville. Under Chapter 11, a debtor can reorganize his business under the supervision of the court, while the court protects the debtor from having his property seized by creditors.
Court records show debts including $159,000 owed to the Jefferson Savings and Loan, $135,000 to the U.S. Small Business Administration, $25,000 to former county executive Winfield M. Kelly Jr., $75,000 in back taxes to the Internal Revenue Service, and smaller amounts to friends and relatives.
Broadwater said yesterday that he chose to file for bankruptcy on the advice of his lawyers and to keep his other businesses in operation. In a carefully worded statement, he said, "I made an investment in my local neighborhood for the benefit of its residents. In order to maintain my businesses I made several loans which I plan to repay. All the business undertakings I made I also plan to continue."
He said he planned to have his financial affairs settled by September 1983, and that the bankruptcy does not "reflect in any way upon my political career or my association with state and local officials."
Broadwater opened his market in November 1981 against the advice of friends and associates who argued that a supermarket chain had failed to succeed in the same location, and that Broadwater had no experience in the highly competitive grocery business. The opening seemed an integral part of his political style, an old-fashioned and sometimes controversial kind of leadership that provided food baskets for the needy at Christmas and twisted allies' arms for help and favors. Despite the difficulties of running an independent supermarket with razor-thin profits, Broadwater viewed the store as a symbol both of his commitment to the predominantly black community and of his own rise from poverty to affluence and power.
"My financial advisers told me to put a bowling alley there," Broadwater told a reporter several months ago, surveying the then year-old market. "But I wanted to do something for the community. A bowling alley is just a bowling alley. What we need is something to uplift the community. I wanted to have fresh vegetables, meats. For the kids, maybe a game room, someplace that they could go to and not get knocked in the heads. To me it's a dream, it's a challenge."
Broadwater said he bought the 21,000-square-foot property more than five years ago for about $250,000, originally intending to use the space for a mall or for storage for equipment from a smaller, unsuccessful farmer's market he had owned years before. The building was constructed by the Safeway chain but had been closed for almost a decade. He decided to open the store almost as an afterthought, when a black-owned construction company from Baltimore offered to install his refrigerators for a good price.
But his difficulties began even before the market opened. He was able to secure a high-interest construction loan for his ambitious remodeling project from Jefferson Bank, but for only half the amount he wanted. He said he secured that loan with a third trust on the store, some property he owns in Glenarden, equipment for the store, and his orange Cadillac. He said he was unable to find longer term financing at a lower rate.
He thought he had found a wholesaler to supply him with groceries, but the company, just days before the store's scheduled opening, refused to extend him credit and demanded more collateral than he could afford, Broadwater said. He finally opened the store with half-empty shelves.
Broadwater, entering his third term in the Senate and his first as chairman of a powerful subcommittee for budget matters, said he became frustrated and bitter at his inability to secure more loans, and finally began soliciting checks from friends and associates, who lent him from a few hundred dollars to several thousand each.
Yesterday, as Broadwater simultaneously fielded press inquiries and prepared for the beginning of his third term in Annapolis next week, his store was still bare, with no more than a dozen cars in the parking lot, one cash register open for business, most shelves half stocked, his prized barbeque pit still unfinished. Only the check cashing and lottery windows boasted a line of customers, and even there they were only three or four deep at the window.
Over the last several months, Broadwater said recently, he has alternated between resentment and optimism.
Yesterday, he struck a more positive note. "I just need more time, and we're going to make it work."