With Hue-Man Bookstore closing, some now worry about the fate of Harlem’s book readers, because sometimes it takes a trip to a not-so-common bookstore or, more specifically, a Black-owned bookstore to find a book that offers a little something extra, a little more oomph for the soul. But there are still many options out there.
One example of a place that has that oomph is Sister’s Uptown Bookstore & Cultural Center in Washington Heights.
“[Our mission] is a little different from commercial establishments because we deal more on a spiritual aspect,” said Janifer Wilson, founder of Sister’s Uptown, located at 1942 Amsterdam Ave. “We deal with folks’ souls, and souls on a soul’s mission.”
Though it sells popular books like the “Twilight” series, Sister’s Uptown offers books that pertain to Black history and culture and that help people deal with life’s trials. With the closing of the renowned Black-owned Hue-Man in Harlem, the list of bookstores for the community is waning. However, there are still a few strongholds.
“Barnes and Noble will have our books for about four, five days. If they don’t move, they’re on sale,” said Wilson. Sister’s Uptown has been in business since 2000. “We wanted to just have a space where we can have our history preserved.”
Nicholas Variety, located at 570 Fulton St. in Brooklyn, also sells Black cultural books. Though there is another Nicholas Variety in Harlem, the Brooklyn location has a wider selection of cultural books.
“We cater a lot to the Caribbean market, to Rastafarians,” said Randolph Nicholas, owner of Nicholas Variety, which also sells organic skin care products and jewelry. Nicholas said they provide spiritual and wellness books and books on Egyptian history. “They’re not like novels. They offer information.”
Some of the books that grace the shelves of these stores are simply hard to find elsewhere. “Assata: An Autobiography,” by Assata Shakur, can be found in either store. It is about a Black nationalist who was falsely accused and convicted as an accomplice to murder. “Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors,” by Dr. Frances Cress Welsing, is yet another example: a series of essays that focus on a theory of the source of white supremacy and the experiences of people of color.
“Folks can come and go all the way back and find out from whence we came and who we are so that we can find out how we’re going to move forward,” said Wilson.
In Brooklyn, True South Bookstore at 492 Nostrand Ave. also offers lectures and events to help educate the community about the African Diaspora. Last month, they had historian Runoko Rashidi sign and lecture about his new book, “Black Star: The African Presence in Early Europe.”
Similarly serving the community, Sister’s Uptown offers book signings, book clubs and poetry and meditation sessions. The purpose is to offer therapy beyond the pages of a book.
“This bookstore is centered on bringing the family back together,” said Mike Williams, a longtime patron of Sister’s Uptown. “I respect the environment.”
Wilson believes it’s important for the community to support Black businesses like Nicholas Variety and True South. Though Hue-Man will be gone by the end of the month, she’s grateful for the Black bookstores that remain. “I don’t know where all of this is going to go, but I’m prayerful that we all don’t become extinct,” Wilson said.