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Mount Vernon Remembers Sylvia Woods

MOUNT VERNON, N.Y. – The Rev. W. Franklyn Richardson of the Grace Baptist Church told a memorial service for Sylvia Woods on Wednesday that the famous restaurateur embodied what it meant to be both spiritual and entrepreneurial.

Woods, who founded Sylvia’s Restaurant in Harlem in 1962, died on July 19 at the age of 86, but the Mount Vernon community, where she lived for many years, is keeping her spirit alive. Current and former elected officials, family, friends and those just wanting to say thank you jammed into Grace Baptist Church to celebrate Woods’ life.

“She meant a lot to Mount Vernon,” said Mayor Ernie Davis. “She understood that we are here to serve each other and she always did what is best for her community.”

Former New York Gov. David Paterson said that when he took office in 2008 only .13 percent of small businesses in the state were run by black women. Paterson noted that previously segregated states like Alabama, South Carolina and Mississippi had more women owning businesses at the time.

“Sylvia Woods had been successful for nearly 50 years when I was appointed governor,” Paterson said. “We tried to even the playing field, but she had already been fighting for small businesses for five decades.”

Former New York City Mayor David Dinkins said that when the governor of Tokyo was at Gracie Mansion during his term, he tried some grits from Sylvia’s which he had never had before and loved them. Dinkins said that Sylvia’s was much more than a place that served food but doubled as a meeting place for prominent members of the community and those just looking for a place to spend time at.

“Her business was not just a restaurant but a tribute to our traditions,” Dinkins said. “People who came to Sylvia’s were not just customers, they were neighbors.”

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