Wading through the humidity and past a row of street vendors selling tchochkes and foot massages, The Observer arrived at Hue-Man Bookstore and Café on Sunday, greeted rather unceremoniously by a door smattered in closing notices. Once in, sparse shelves offered brand-new paperbacks like Cheetah Girls, randomly interspersed with time-worn hard covers such as The Ethiopian Famine and The History of Calvinism Volume III. Final sale flyers were scattered throughout. Once considered a part of the most recent Harlem renaissance, the cultural Mecca was on the last legs of its 10-year run—officially closing its doors at the end of the month—and looked as much.
“The closing is a confluence of things,” CEO and Hue-Man partner Marva Allen would later tell us. “It’s the publishing industry that’s gone into a free fall. It’s the fact that our lease is up after ten years and—with the new rent in Harlem—we would not have been able to sustain it. But most importantly I believe that any bookstore that wants to move into the future needs to address the [conflicting] dynamics of technology and the analog bookstore. So we decided why not step out now and take that opportunity to learn?”
But tonight they celebrated what had become a gathering ground for the neighborhood’s literary community. We looked around. Only a few customers sat in small groups at tables up front—the store was otherwise empty—had the celebration come and gone? We approached the front desk and asked for Ms. Allen, who had invited us.
“Marva’s at the party.” The cashier gestured towards the back of the store.
Bookshelves were pushed aside, leaving a large open space in the middle where old friends laughed and chatted while their grandchildren chased each other. Read More