Remembering Hue Man Book Store in Harlem

photos and story by Reuben D. Quansah

Harlem is going through a major commercial transition as outside big business companies enter and take control of this highly black populated community’s business market. In the process, the Harlem-ites chance to develop an economic pie that is for the people by the people, is alas curtailed. In such a delicate time, businesses that are akin the Hue-Man Bookstore have come to the rescue of the Harlemlites. By no means is this an ordinary bookstore. This landmark stands emblematic as the largest African American book store in the United States of America. Many African American evinced their gratitude merely by coming and showing their satisfaction with the newfound establishment. 

Oh was it a sight to see on Friday, August 2nd as the Hue-Book store commenced its grand opening at five o’clock. At this time, there were few guests and the staff went through their extra rounds of keeping the atmosphere looking spiffy. A few reporters and guest took the time to skim through the multitude of books around the store. The staff members, who took part in the building of the store, were pleased to see the people there in the beginning. As Sales Associate, Marc Edwards put it, “Today is the day to get the message out.” Trinee, another Sales Associate, who considers herself a pro-black worker, stated that “from the 1st nail, to the first sale, [Clara Villarosa] has made things happen.” Clara Villarosa, the owner of the store returned from her retirement to run the store. Earlier in her life, she owned an African American bookstore in Denver that provided service to many, including actor, Ozzie Davis and actress Ruby Dee. 

While, the people awaited the arrival of Mrs. Villarosa, they enjoyed the company of the plethora of black artists. Jay-Z, one of the early birds at the event, said that he was there to show his support to one of the fellow contributors to the stores development. For Harlem Live, he had a few words to say about the significance of the bookstore and its possible influence on the teenagers of today. He placed emphasis on the idea that it is “a question of knowledge” hat those who know about this resource can take advantage of this resource. When asked what role he will play in helping the develop of the bookstore, he said stated, “I’ll do what I do…I’ll give the information.” Romero Chamber who accompanied him mentioned that “[the bookstore] is long over do.” He said that he plans to bring his children there. 

As the evening progressed, more reporters, celebrities, community members and politicians made their presence known by forming small hubs at just about all corners of the store. There, holding worthwhile discussions, signing autographs or making connections were so

me of the many things that went on. By this time Mrs. Clara Villarosa was meeting and greeting the guest before a large presentation of which she was going to take part in with a special guest. Meanwhile sponsors such as Dawn Nile of the Empowerment Zone remained low profile and enjoyed the atmosphere. She pointed out the importance of this bookstore and its need to stay in existence. Many shared the same views as Dawn Nile, such as actor Ozzie Davis, who mad it clear that the Harlem community must attain an economic balance in order to abet it development. He said that “reading should be pleasure,” thus doing what we please we can develop ourselves economically. 

As the presentation takes place the glowing Clara Villarosa tells her story of she gets involved bookstore’s completion. Satisfied with the turnout of people, she tells the audience how she is happy to see “the wall to wall people.”

Show Some Harlem Hospitality

story and photos by Damali Snowe

The Harlem Landmark Guest House, located at 437 W. 147th between St. Nicholas Avenue and Convent Avenue is a standing tribute the beauty of Harlem and its history. A collective, whose members are African-American long-time residents of Harlem, owns this business.

Harlem Landmark Guest House is essentially a place for people to stay overnight. They are provided with a continental breakfast in the morning. It is also home to many events, serving as a cultural center. The difference between this experience and that of a hotel is: hotels are more established and impersonal. A guesthouse, however has more of a “home feeling” to it. 

One of the goals of the collective that owns the brownstone is to promote Harlem as “a wonderful place.” Many visitors and residents of New York have a negative image of Harlem, not knowing the rich culture that resides here. The people at The Harlem Landmark want to change this and upgrade Harlem’s image by giving visitors the full Harlem experience. The Harlem Landmark is a part of the Harlem Chamber of Commerce, and works with tour companies, as well as radio stations, to help fulfill its purpose. 

The brownstone took a year to restore, preserving the history it holds from a century ago, making it a museum in a sense. The building is decorated in, “Harlem Style” which is some African culture mixed in with Harlem’s history and culture. There are many historical pictures of Harlem figures, particularly musicians, lining the staircase and decorating the rooms. African masks, pictures, and paintings liven up the hallways and rooms as well. These fine pieces of art bring the brownstone alive, and the brownstone has become a wonderful venue for artists to exhibit their work, making it a place for cultural expression. 
The most creative aspect of the brownstone, however, seems to be its rooms. Each room is decorated with a theme dedicated to a particular Harlem jazz jazz legend. There is the Nat “King” Cole wedding suite, accompanied by a bathroom. There are also the Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald Egyptian room, and the Louis Armstrong rooms. 

Along with the rooms themselves, located on the top three floors, there are a number of bathrooms, and a Jacuzzi suite. The reception Hall on the first floor holds a mural, which measures 11 feet high and 22 feet wide entitled “The Liberian.” It depicts the history of the Africans of Liberia, explaining why Liberia is the way it is today. Downstairs has a kitchen, and a lounge in the making. Its long-term goal is to own more property and have a restaurant and entertainment, that all bring alive the history of Harlem. 

The issue of longtime Harlemites being pushed out of their homes was also raised. The Harlem Landmark feels longtime residents shouldn’t be pushed out, but change happens. One must look to be a part of that change, and think in a progressive manor.” They feel major companies get funding form the Empowerment Zone and get tax brakes from the government to move into Harlem. There for small Harlem businesses should get assistance as well. The Harlem Landmark guest House expressed: it is important that longtime Harlem residents and business owners are able to benefit from the economic changes in Harlem, along with the large companies that are moving in.