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Philly stepping up to save oldest African-American bookstore

The response has been overwhelming. When Philly steps up, almost anything is possible.

Yvonne Blake, at Hakim’s: “It’s truly been overwhelming to see all the love and support and to hear people say how important it is for the community for us to survive."
Yvonne Blake, at Hakim’s: “It’s truly been overwhelming to see all the love and support and to hear people say how important it is for the community for us to survive."Read moreDAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

WE JUST MIGHT save the city's oldest African-American bookstore.

If things keep going the way they have since my column about Hakim's Bookstore - family-owned-and-operated since 1959 - the struggling black literary institution just may be around for another half-century.

The response has been overwhelming, said owner Yvonne Blake.

People have called and written from all over with memories about the bookstore that was started by Blake's late father, Dawud Hakim. Many, including Tariq "Black Thought" Trotter of the Roots, have shared the story on social media and put out a plea for support under #savehakims.

And, more importantly for the bookstore and gift shop on 52nd Street below Walnut in West Philly, people have shown up and shopped.

Physician Donald Parks estimated that over the years he's purchased more than 200 books from the store, and many of those have ended up in his waiting room to encourage his patients and their children to read more. After reading about the store's struggles in the Daily News, he's even more committed to supporting the small business.

Keturah Holman said the store is as important to her generation as it is to the next. "I am a mother of a 9-year-old daughter looking to help her understand the richness of her heritage," she said. "I want for my daughter and other little children to learn that we are more than what the news depicts us to be."

Several people have even offered to volunteer their time to help Blake - who also is caring for her elderly and ailing mom - keep the doors open.

Temple University student Ebonee Johnson said she is ready to donate as much of her free time as possible and will rally friends to do the same.

Everyone who learned about the landmark store struggling to keep its doors open had the same question: What can we do?

Last week, the Early Birds, an online community that brings attention and exposure to small, black-owned businesses through various campaigns, stepped up. They held a cash mob, asking their online followers to come and spend at least $20.

"I don't know if Miss Yvonne realized how big of an effect the store had on so many people in the community," said co-founder Camari Ellis. "Now it's about keeping this going."

An ecstatic, if slightly overwhelmed-sounding Blake said she was cautiously optimistic that the support would continue past the holidays.

"It's like a dream I don't want to fully embrace because I don't want it to end," she said. "It's been an eye-opener because I thought we were dead and irrelevant. I really thought our time had passed, but I realized that I was living in the past and we have to do things differently if we want to stay around."

To do that, Blake is having lots of conversations with people about partnerships and events and ways to increase the store's exposure and business.

"It's truly been overwhelming to see all the love and support and to hear people say how important it is for the community for us to survive," Blake said.

Keep the support coming. The store is at 210 S. 52nd St. Visit or call: 215-474-9495. Check them out on Facebook. They also have a GoFundMe page:

Speaking of support, I'm away until the New Year, but before we welcome in 2016 I want to thank some people who really stepped up this year.

First, the awesome people at GALAEI, the queer Latino social-justice organization in North Philly. At my request, they claimed the ashes of Diamond Williams, a murdered transgender woman whose remains sat at the Medical Examiner's Office for two years, when no one else did. Then the Rev. James St. George from St. Miriam Cathedral in Flourtown offered his church and cemetery to lay her to rest. Thankful and awed by their generosity doesn't begin to describe my gratitude.

And then there were all those who took the Rock Out Brain Tumors Air Guitar Challenge on behalf of Jennifer Pownall, a Northeast Philly woman with several brain tumors who created the challenge to raise awareness and funds for the National Brain Tumor Society. And on behalf of Daily News Assistant Managing Editor Gar Joseph, recently diagnosed with a brain tumor. To see all the good sports at the Daily News, the Inquirer, SEPTA and put so much time and energy into videos to support a good cause and good people was amazing. (Go to to see all the videos and to donate.) I can't wait to see what those who've been challenged - WHYY, Philadelphia Magazine, PATCO, the Philadelphia Fire Department, and Happy Cog - will come up with next.

And finally, I want to thank my readers. I take up a lot of causes in this space, but without loyal and passionate readers like you, they'd just be words.

I look forward to taking on more causes with your support next year.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.


Phone: 215-854-5943

On Twitter: @NotesFromHel

On Facebook: Helen.Ubinas