New Harlem businesses face old challenges

This morning’s New York Times had an article titled, In A Changing Harlem, Rift between Old and New Business Owners. This article is long overdue. Every time a conversation arises about why Harlem businesses can’t thrive, the conversation always turns to the “old guard” and the influence they’ve had over the neighborhood. The article points out that these were necessary measures back when banks and financial institutions didn’t want to lend money to the struggling neighborhood. On the flip side, new businesses are coming into the neighborhood with their own financing thereby unintentionally (in some cases) side-stepping the old guard and avoiding the tradition of stroking egos.

It was also obvious from this article that the “old guard” still holds some influence in Harlem business politics. If the “old guard” felt threatened or snubbed, word would be spread that the new business doesn’t embrace Harlem and essentially the business would be boycotted. “Word was spread that they were not interested in longtime Harlem residents or their patronage, the stories go, and eventually the businesses were forced to shut their doors.”

In the case of the unnamed restaurant mentioned by Inez Dickens, which it is probably safe to assume was Ginger, we think she is giving herself too much credit for their closing. Dicken’s states that “she held a couple of meetings there and invited colleagues to do the same. But the owners failed to welcome them, she said, and business dried up. The restaurant has since closed.”

It is also interesting that one of the owners of the now shuttered N Boutique was quoted in this article and had quite a lot to say about the topic. “The reality is that if you don’t do it, they will let it be known that you didn’t come into the community the right way,” Ms. Evans-Hendricks, of N Boutique, said. “You will most certainly be shunned.” With the recently decision to shutter her business, it is interesting that she brings up that point. Some speculation has turned to how inclusive N Boutique appeared to be to the long-time residents. Often their events were invitation only and from outward appearances the boutique had an exclusive air to it offering high-end apparel that was out of line with the current market in Harlem. Should N Boutique decide to give it another whirl, we think they have better success on Frederick Douglass Blvd. (aka Condo row) where new residents whose incomes can support their designer apparel and offer a bit a variety to the ever-changing landscape that is quickly becoming Harlem’s restaurant row.

Other local businesses mentioned in the article were Settepani which has been around long enough to garner the respect of the old guard while appealing to the new, and Society Cafe and 67 Orange Street.

Dickens gets the final word in the article when she states:

“The new people come in and try to do business the way they would in some other place,” she said, “without any understanding of the culture here, and so many of them fail because they don’t extend themselves in the community.”

“They come in with great ideas and beautiful places that they invested their money in to build,” she added, “beautiful commercial storefronts, bars, restaurants, but there’s not enough of the new people coming in yet today to keep them alive.”

“Unless they are able to survive for another 10 years,” she said, “they will have to introduce themselves to not just the new who are coming in, but to those of us that have been here all along.”

New York Times

What do you think about old vs. new Harlem? Is it just hype or is there some validity to it? Leave your comments below.

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2 thoughts on “New Harlem businesses face old challenges

  1. Superfluous negroes rarely spend their money on other black owned businesses in Harlem or any other place for that matter.

    There is a nauseating air of elitism that only the new Harlemnite (white people) can truly appreciate and thrive in. Sadly, I do not see any change in site.

    very sad.

  2. New businesses in Harlem are not out to appeal to only “New” harlemites. While her opinion counts we need to recognize Ms. Dickens is a politician, not a retail analyst. Business in Harlem regardless of old or new is difficult. The population density that was once desired to sustain business is growing, however Harlem does not have the numbers of people that other areas of downtown have to keep local businesses going. The balance to this would be a professional campaign to attract non residents to Harlem. Harlem politicians have not done enough to pull the rest of the city uptown, the same way we will plan an evening in the East Village or Soho. Waiting for Harlem Week is not going to do it. Also while Harlem has residents that are considered affluent, there is a considerable population of people that welcome new business, but cannot afford the basics. This is not about old and new; simple math could decipher why business uptown is tough. Anyone who can’t figure that out, well Staples on 125th St. sells calculators.

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