Jazz venue Lenox Lounge, one of Harlem’s long-standing institutions, closed and was demolished in 2017 erasing another piece of uptown history. The closure is another recent example of the decreasing number of Black businesses in Harlem.
Angie Hancock is trying to not only preserve Harlem’s rich Black legacy but also make sure its future is inclusive.
Hancock is president of Experience Harlem, which serves as a guide to businesses and events in Upper Manhattan and also serves as a resource and support for small businesses in the area. Using her background in marketing, Hancock shares her tools of the trade making sure Black business owners have a seat at the table as changes take place in Harlem.
A native of Chicago, Hancock moved to New York in 2003 to take a job shortly after earning her MBA. She said she always wanted to move to the city after making several visits over the years and came to Harlem.
“When I first moved here I wanted to live in Brooklyn but I ended up in Harlem,” she said. “I felt like it was a good place for me personally and professionally. I grew up learning about Harlem and the Harlem Renaissance and the history. It’s important to have a connection to the community larger than yourself and to give back.”
While getting to know the neighborhood at that time, Hancock soon realized she was unable to find guides and resources that reflected uptown culture, events and businesses. She decided to take matters into her own hands.
“When you move to a new community, you are excited about what’s going on, where the good restaurants are, where can I find people who look like me and are all hanging out. I struggled to find current information. It occurred to me to stop waiting for others to recognize what neighborhood gems we have,” she said.
As a result, Hancock founded Experience Harlem in 2006. It started out as a media company partnering with several small businesses and arts and cultural institutions. Experience Harlem also works with several organizations including Harlem Business Alliance, The Boys and Girls Club and the Harlem Commonwealth Council.
Experience Harlem has evolved into a consulting firm for small businesses and nonprofits. Hancock holds workshops and seminars on marketing, business planning and technical assistance.
“In my experience, having a solid business plan from the start and solid access to resources is often a challenge for us,” she said. “A number of businesses have a single owner and they don’t have a network of investors and the support they are going to need for the first couple of years.”
Experience Harlem is releasing its “Essential Uptown Guide” for the summer: it is filled with the newest restaurants, bars, clubs and free events.
“There’s more work to be done; we’ve only scratched the surface,” Hancock said. “We’ll continue along the path to support enterprises through expanded consultancy services for small-business owners. We have a ton of work to do to protect our cultural legacy as the demographic shifts.”