John O’Daniel Exchange: When opportunity meets vision


After a long history in Northeast Central Durham, the John O’Daniel Exchange stands as a success story. (Staff photo by Roland Givens)

After a long history in Northeast Central Durham, the John O’Daniel Exchange stands as a success story. (Staff photo by Roland Givens)

Wendy Clark, an entrepreneur and small business owner, sought an opportunity that would not only benefit her, but the people in the community as well, by purchasing 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 by only women, it provided an extra source of income.

Wendy Clark, CEO of Carpe Diem, is proud of what the John O’Daniel Exchange has been able to provide to the neighborhood. (Photo courtesy of Carpe Diem cleaning)

Wendy Clark, CEO of Carpe Diem, is proud of what the John O’Daniel Exchange has been able to provide to the neighborhood. (Photo courtesy of Carpe Diem cleaning)

It later became the farmers’ market where they sold poultry, eggs, baked goods, canned items, fresh vegetables and fresh flowers. In those days, more than 900 were working at the exchange and feeding their families.

The building went through a myriad of 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 naming 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.

She started with a handful of clients, but has grown in the past 20 years to more than 30 employees that 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 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 loves the heart of Clark and working for her because the change it has brought to other people and to her, who may not have had the job opportunities somewhere else.

“People are very passionate here, and I like how I can share ideas with other people.” Law, who is a volunteer coordinator and church engagement specialist, has benefited from the opening of the building operating her own business called 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.

Rowland Givens of Charlotte is a student at N.C. Central University and a staff writer-photographer for the Durham VOICE.