Jeremy Hobson: It’s considered the largest African-American bookstore in the country, and it’s closing its doors at the end of this month. The Hue-Man Bookstore in Harlem has been around for ten years, but rising rents and a changing industry have made it impossible for the bookstore to stick around.
Marva Allen is co-owner and she’s with me now here in our New York studio. Good morning.
Marva Allen: Good morning.
Hobson: Well, why are you closing?
Allen: You know, confluences of things, really. We’re in an industry, and — this being my third entrepreneurial venture, one thing that is different here is the fact that we’re in a tumultuous industry such as publishing. We haven’t figured out yet where that’s going, and that’s even harder on a niche market bookstore in an underserved community.
Hobson: So there’s a difference between the problems that face any bookstore right now in the era of e-books and all of that, and the problems that face your bookstore?
Allen: Oh absolutely. And as I said, this is my third entrepreneurship venture. And my first venture was in technology, so the technicalities of that was that we were in a rising market, and you’re going to do well unless you’re just really not innovative. In this market, however, it’s a very, very mature business that’s in decline. And so there are lots of reasons, in addition to the economy, that small businesses have to face. If they don’t have access to capital, there is no business.
Hobson: Is it more difficult for a minority-owned business to get access to capital?
Allen: Absolutely. It is one of the most important things, why minority businesses don’t grow to the size that they could. And in fact, the largest minority business is not even as large as the smallest Fortune 500 company. So there’s an inequity there in terms of access to capital.
Hobson: Well so, what’s next? How do you make this work? And I know that you’re going to try to do some online business.
Allen: Well as I said I’m an entrepreneur at heart, so you know I’m going to try to figure something out. And I think the bookstore of the future is a real interest to me — what does the future bookstore look like, and how can we integrate technology into that and create something completely dynamic and new?
Hobson: When your business goes out of business, do you think to yourself: well, that didn’t work, I’m going to keep going; I’m going to try something new? Or does it just get really discouraging?
Allen: Well no, I think going out of business because the pressures to go out of business are a business decision, doesn’t feel the same as if you go out of business because you can’t run the business. You know, when I looked at all the confluences of events, and looked at my pro list and my con list, that was a business decision — because our sales are actually up 37 percent. But our business model is not sustainable.
Hobson: Marva Allen is the co-owner of Hue-Man Bookstore, which will close at the end of this month after 10 years in business. Thank you so much for coming in.
Allen: You’re welcome.
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