A team of city marshals began removing merchandise from one of Harlem’s most iconic music stores, the Record Shack, before noon today, carrying out eviction orders delivered back in February.
The United House of Prayer for All People, the landlord of the 35-year-old de-facto Harlem landmark, gave Record Shack owner Sikhulu Shange 30 days to vacate the premises across from the official 125th Street landmark the Apollo Theater.
Mr. Shange then lost an appeal in civil court in March, and a judge ordered him to leave the premises “broom clean” by May 31. He has since filed another appeal in appellate court, but told us the case “is still in transition” and a date for the proceedings has yet to be set.
“They are taking everything out now,” Mr. Shange said over the phone at 1.
He said a couple of workers and the assistant city marshal were in the process of removing all the merchandise–including tapes, records, and all sorts of other things that lend the Record Shack the appearance of a time capsule–from the shelves.
A few supporters and fellow activists who have seen Mr. Shange through the protracted legal battle with his landlord were helping him “salvage some stuff like paperwork,” he said, before abruptly ending the conversation.
“I got to go. This is like quicksand,” he said and hung up.
Bobby’s Happy House Records, a 52-year-old Harlem staple on Frederick Douglass Boulevard that was once the Record Shack’s friendly rival, was evicted in January, leaving the Record Shack as one of the last remnants of Harlem in its heyday and a symbol of the struggle against gentrification.
This is not Mr. Shange’s first brush with his landlord or city authority—he told us back in March that he had been “the target of removal before.” The 65-year-old long-time activist is the chairman of the Coalition to Save Harlem, a community-based organization that advocates for affordable housing, locally owned businesses, and agitates against the city’s rezoning of 125th Street and Columbia’s expansion.
An eviction battle with his former landlord prompted weeks of demonstrations that culminated in riots, arson, and eight deaths in 1995. According to an e-mail statement from the Coalition, the Record Shack is the oldest African-American owned and operated store left in Harlem, and the only United House of Prayer tenant on the premises facing eviction.
For Mr. Shange, his eviction, the rezoning of 125th, and Columbia’s expansion, are all issues of social justice, but with decidedly racial undertones.
“When Harlem was in the dumps, we didn’t cut and run," he told us at the Record Shack in March. "We kept our culture alive and now Harlem is the focal point for all black culture… If you go back to any hamlet in Africa and tell people you haven’t seen Harlem, they will tell you to go back because you haven’t seen America."