The curtain is coming down on a beloved Harlem institution, an important meeting ground for New York’s black literati.
Hue-Man Bookstore located near the hub of Harlem’s bustling 125th St. commercial district will be closing at the end of the month.
The store operated by Jamaican-born businesswoman, Marva Allen is a sad casualty of the downturn in the publishing industry. It is the latest bookstore to close in the New York area, the heart of the publishing industry that has seen several bookstores close shop in recent years.
The trend began a few years ago when a number of independent stores closed down and escalated last year when the national chain Borders went out of business and its rival Barnes & Noble closed a number of stores in the Tri-State area.
Hue-Man Bookstore & Caf* opened its doors ten years ago introducing patrons to a range of books reflecting the black experience. It is one of few stores that concentrated on ethnic readership.
It hosted many book signings and other events allowing mainly black writers and stars to interact with their audience and fan base. Though the main focus was authors from the black genre, personalities that are very dear to the black community were warmly received.
For example, former President Bill Clinton had one of the biggest and most successful book signings at Hue-Man Bookstore when he released his memoirs a few years ago.
The lines wrapped around the block and the book signing was practically an all day traffic-stopping affair. Among those featured in discussions at the store have been entertainer Harry Belafonte, Professor Cornell West, Maya Angelou, Jamaican poet, Lorna Goodison, to name a few.
While the New York community is quite upset about the closing, the CEO, Ms. Allen is upbeat and realistic about the situation. In an email to patrons she acknowledged that it was a difficult decision but says the fact is that the era of traditional book selling is coming to a close.
She will be focusing on a new format to serve the public. “Closing the existing format of Hue-Man is forward thinking on our part and as we take pause to re-imagine the future of books and how to ensure that their purpose of entertaining, imparting knowledge and honing creativity is preserved, we find no viable alternative but to go back to the drawing board,” she said in her email.
“Closing our beloved bookstore, I assure you, was a very hard decision for us. Yet, the confluence of events, changing landscape, the end of our lease and the international expansion of our vision, closing our physical location was the only sensible decision we could make.
There is no way to re-imagine the bookstore of the future in our current space,” she added. Allen points out that the publishing industry is under tremendous pressure and the interim hype has become celebrity books.
But this, she notes is not a sustainable model and when the stop gap measure runs out, the industry will be forced to reconcile the future place of ‘real books’ in their business models.
She says Hue-Man will continue to be involved in publishing and will ramp up its agency services to writers and publishers. She is working on a number of projects, details of which will be announced on their website. One of these involves a partnership with a state of the art facility to host multi platform events.
The first one will take place on September 6 with Miami Heat’s Dwayne Wade. Hue-Man will host a farewell party on its last day, July 31. Inventory has been discounted so a big sale is now underway. For the next three months beginning August 1, books may be purchased online again at a huge discount. Details are available at www.huemanbookstore.com