A lot has been said about the changes to Harlem over the past decade; the new apartments, retail outlets and demographics have made some people uneasy. But the neighborhood that is the global epicenter and representation of American Black culture has improved–now it looks like it’s about to get better.
Some local businesses have recently announced that they have joined forces to form the Frederick Douglass Boulevard Alliance (FDBA). The FDBA seeks to improve the neighborhood by working together, keeping the area clean and establishing good relations with residents.
In a statement sent to the AmNews, the alliance said it hopes to “create a clean and safe Frederick Douglass Boulevard [FDB] through programming and community engagement, establish FDB as a model corridor and neighborhood in Northern Manhattan and the entire borough through partnerships, create awareness and encourage residents and visitors to support local businesses on FDB [and] promote FDB as a destination as the Gateway to Harlem and Restaurant Row.”
The businesses that form the alliance stretch along Frederick Douglass Boulevard from West 110th to West 124th Street, ending just a block away from the AmNews offices. This stretch of land, which some now call the “Gateway to Harlem,” is home to a plethora of restaurants, bars, beer gardens, florist shops, bakeries, supermarkets, beauty salons and even a hotel.
Walking along the stretch you can find the Aloft hotel, part of the W hotel group, the first new hotel in Harlem in many decades. You can also find the Karrot Health Food Store, the Harlem Tavern, SidiBooks, Harlem Pediatric Associates and a Kumon Learning Center.
Members of the alliance include Black entrepreneurs like Jai Jai Greenfield, owner of Harlem Vintage; Henock Kejela, owner of the Ethiopian restaurant Zoma; Karl Franz, owner of the 67 Orange Lounge Restaurant; and Leon Ellis, owner of Moca Restaurant and Lounge and Chocolat Restaurant and Lounge.
Greenfield spoke to the AmNews about the significance of the FDBA. “The alliance is a great way to harness resources, get vendors together and share resources from a marketing standpoint,” Greenfield said. “We can extend the potential revenue of people shopping and eating along this strip.”
“As a business owner here, publicizing and marketing is one of the most important things and having people become aware of my business is hugely important,” said Franz. “What the FDBA is doing for these opportunities is fantastic.”
When asked about how an alliance like this might look to the neighborhood’s residents, Franz said, “I think it showcases the spirit of the community and that is what sets Harlem apart. Even though this is a big neighborhood, it feels small. You feel like you’re a part of something and people are banded together. I think it helps with information flow. If folks want to know what’s going on, this is a good way.”
It would not have been possible without former Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields. In 2004, Fields helped rezone the aforementioned stretch of Frederick Douglass Boulevard to help make way for more apartment construction and retail space.
Later this year, the FDBA plans to establish a street cleaning program and a garbage bin program to keep the streets clean for its businesses and residences. It’s another much-needed improvement by a group of people who are making sure their slice of Harlem is available to everyone.