Wendy Clark, an entrepreneur and small business owner, sought an opportunity that would benefit not only her, but also people in the community, when she purchased the abandoned John O’Daniel Exchange building in January 2007.
According to Joanna Cutrara, Clark’s staff writer, what is now a building for disadvantaged people and non-profits to work in was first a hosiery mill, opened in 1910. Operated solely by women, it provided an extra source of income.
The building later became a farmer’s market, selling poultry, eggs, baked goods, canned items, fresh vegetables and fresh flowers. In those days, more than 900 people worked at the exchange.
The building went through myriad changes when the farmers market moved downtown to Foster Street. Immediately before a huge fire destroyed the roof, it was a Hispanic night club. After about a decade, Clark came along.
Clark was only 20 when she discovered the building, but knew she wanted to acquire it to help underprivileged youth. She got a grant to open the abandoned building, named it the John O’Daniel Exchange and used $100 she had inherited to start a housecleaning company: Carpe Diem, which is located in the building.
Carpe Diem started with a handful of clients, but has grown in the past 20 years to more than 30 employees who service about 600 homes in Durham.
“I realized that business is truly one of the most effective ways to be able to impact lives,’’ said Clark.
It wasn’t a cake walk though, and after developing and fulfilling her dream she is happy to see her vision in fruition. ‘’The average entrepreneur fails seven times,” said Clark. “It’s usually two steps after failure that the big breakthrough comes.”
Clark believes in setting a standard and has a motto for leadership: “Leadership is not about what you can do, it’s about building a platform for others to succeed.’’
Indeed, Clark keeps that philosophy close to her heart by using the John O’Daniel Exchange building to provide low-cost office space for small businesses, entrepreneurs, and nonprofits.
Kaylee Law, who works at the John O’Daniel Exchange, said she loves Clark’s heart and working for her because of the changes the business has brought to her and to other people who may not have had job opportunities elsewhere.
“People are very passionate here, and I like how I can share ideas with other people,” she said. Law, who is a volunteer coordinator and church engagement specialist, also operates her own business, World Relief Durham, which helps vulnerable people socially, economically and spiritually.
Clark hopes to continue to be a positive force and example for the kind of change happening throughout Northeast Central Durham as neighbors come together to help each other.
Story by Rowland Givens.
This story first appeared in the Durham VOICE, a community newspaper produced by NCCU and UNC-Chapel Hill journalism students.