Hue-Man Books Closes: Harlem Responds

July 8, 2012
Ten-year-old Hue-Man Bookstore and Café in Harlem on St. Nicholas Avenue (between 125th and 124th Streets) is the latest bookstore to close its physical space in order to reinvent itself.
It has begun liquidating inventory and selling fixtures; its last day in its current location will be July 31. Last April, when CEO Marva Allen was in the midst of trying to renegotiate her lease, she told PW: “We’re going to be around somewhere, somehow.”

In an open letter to the Harlem community, Allen laid out those plans as she explained her decision to close the bricks-and-mortar store. “We all know that there is a season for everything under heaven and the season of ‘traditional book’ selling has come to a close,” wrote Allen. “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.” With her lease ending, Allen noted that “there is no way to re-imagine the bookstore of the future in our current space.”

The Harlem publishing community responds:

“Yes, I am very disappointed that Hue-man is closing. Hue-Man was so more than a bookstore. That was our community hub. It was a gathering place where we’d go to learn new things, as well support the works of celebrities, activist, and independent authors. The trend in publishing is moving more and more toward electronic formats. And new technology is great, but the more we opt for our virtual fix, our bookstores and libraries, real physical places, suffer.”Eartha Watts-Hicks, Member of Harlem Writers Guild.

“The closing of Hue Man’s brick-and-mortar store in Harlem is tragic, leaving a cultural void in community. I hope that our political and business leaders will soon understand the importance literature, arts and culture as a way of maintain our psychological, spiritual and financial well-being. If they understood, they wouldn’t let such an important business leave without doing all that they could. I applaud Marva Allen and everyone who worked to keep the doors of Hue Man open for as long as they did. The service they provided is much more valuable to us than all the shiny banks, restaurants and bars uptown.” Malaika Adero, Vice President/Senior Editor Atria Books

“It’s sad but indicative of the continued challenges bookstores face. Remove your rose-colored specs and you’ll realize that there’s no real reason for bookstores to exist. Ebooks are dramatically cheaper and quickly accessed, and print books can be purchased online at a fraction of the cover price.

What we are losing are physical spaces, literary pews, that provide space to freely discuss literary ideas. Access to which are not limited by passwords, connection speeds, or anonymous gatekeepers. Serendipity took a hit. Walking into a store and seeing a table of new books -picking one and before you look up again you’re fifty pages in. A new favorite author on your list. Hand-selling will die. Bookstore clerks believing so deeply in a book they go beyond the 100-word cover blurb to convince you that this book needs to be in your library, and will inform who you are or may become. Our love changed. Not for the better or worse but how we’ll interact with a love of books continues to transform.

Considering its location, I’m not sure if Hue Man ever had a legit chance. Independent bookstores were already in a downward trend when they opened (RIP: Liberation, Nkiru, Black Book Plus…). And Independent Black businesses have nearly been eradicated on 125. It’s someone’s fault but I can’t honestly say who’s. Maybe it’s your fault. Ron Kavanaugh, Publisher, Mosaic Literary Magazine

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Going forward Hue-Man will continue to hold events. In addition to maintaining the July events schedule, Allen promised one on September 6 with Miami Heat Dwayne Wade in a state-of-the-art facility. Customers will be able to contact the store through its Hue-Man Web site, which will offer deep discounts for the next three months, starting August 1. The store phone number, Facebook, and Twitter accounts will all remain unchanged.

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