By: Patricia Trutescu
“We recognize how difficult it was for our customers when we left. We’re not gone, we are transitioning and we want to come back into the community when the time is right. In the meantime, we are creating an online bookstore,” says Marva Allen in an interview with New York Carib News.
Eight years ago, Ms. Allen became the co-owner and CEO of one of Harlem’s last surviving bookstores. In July 2012, when the building’s lease was up for renewal, Allen announced that the business would close. Ms. Allen though didn’t miss a beat. She saw an opportunity to continue Hue-Man and offer her avid readers and book enthusiasts a new literary experience with her Pop Up store concept and a more robust online presence. On September 5th with the help of MIST Harlem – an auxiliary business that houses a theater, restaurant and bar – she hosted her first Pop Up event with Miami Heat’s Dwyane Wade. She explains:
“In the future, we hope to have a bookstore in a convergence space such as the MIST Harlem concept so that they [the public] can experience the [Hue-Man] bookstore in a new way. The bookstore of the future is one that will give people the chance to come together and have conversations, and do much more than purchasing or reading books. The bookstore of the future will keep the audience more engaged.”
In addition to providing people with more to do in the bookstore, Ms. Allen will also ensure that Hue-Man continues to provide a rich option of books by African American writers.
“We became the only-vital bookstore that had literature for people of color; a vast variety and more options than our competitors,” she explains. “Borders had a history of carrying a decent selection of Black books, but they closed nationwide. While other stores carried literature of color, their collection was very small.”
In 2003, Ms. Allen first discovered Hue-Man after she left USI, a multi-million dollar tech firm that she ran for twenty-five years prior. She initially left with the hopes of pursuing a Masters degree in writing from Columbia University. She learned about the Harlem bookstore and approached one of the previous owners to try to get her to sell two books Ms. Allen had written herself.
“I left her the two books and an article about USI in Black Enterprise. The woman, who was older, was experiencing challenges running the store. She said she needed help and asked me if I was looking for a job,” claims Ms. Allen.
At the time, Ms. Allen had just retired from a 30 million dollar company that she built. She hadn’t even considered taking a job in a bookstore. As time went on though, Ms. Allen started receiving more messages from the owner and realized the store might be in crisis.
“She [the owner] said she needed someone of my skill set. So, I actually volunteered for a year and a half before deciding to become a partner in the bookstore.
“Part of my due diligence was to meet everyone and learn everything. If the company was going to grow, it needed one solid vision. In order to help this company spiral out and grow, we needed to have a strong marketing and branding strategy. One of these strategies was holding celebrity signings.
“We kept the business in the community for ten years.”
Even after closing its doors on July 31 of this year, the business’s reputation for bringing African American celebrities and their literature to Harlem continues. More notably, these signings have brought the youth to Hue-Man. Ms. Allen talks about two signings in particular that recently took place. One at MIST Harlem with Miami Heat’s Dwyane Wade and one with Grammy Award winning Rapper, T.I. at Chocolat Restaurant.
“Rapper T.I. is a young person who had just written his second book, and he wrote for an audience we want to attract. We thought he could show kids that they can be many things on their road to success.
“Dwyane Wade is 30 years old and he is doing something young people admire, and he’s accessible. His book signing brought out so many young people, teenagers, who came by their own choice.”
Hue-Man bookstore’s continuous presence in the Harlem community is evident. Most importantly, this business aims to keep the culture of literature among ethnic communities and the youth alive.
“Reading is the structure of life and the building block to education,” adds Ms. Allen. “It’s important to stress the impact of literature... It’s one of those trends we need to promote and make cool.”
Ms. Allen continues her efforts to introduce new and exciting authors through her Pop Up events. Her next event is with Nike Spokesperson and author Kevin Caroll at Harlem Flo, a flower shop.
Literacy has no boundaries. Ms. Allen is busier than ever with Hue-Man Agency Services which supports authors, and with her Imprint Open Lens which will release its new title Roving Tree by Haitian author, Elsie Agustave.
Hue-Man’s new website is now up, with coupons glare for deep discounts to customers. Visit the store at http://www.huemanbookstore.com/.