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Celebrating Black Bookstores: Pt One

Black bookstores are a vital part of the African American community. They provide a space for black authors and readers to come together and celebrate their culture. Black bookstores also promote literacy and education within the African American community.

Black bookstores first began to appear in the early 20th century, in cities like New York and Washington D.C. In recent years, there has been a resurgence of black bookstores, as more and more people seek out spaces that reflect their cultures and experiences.

For the next six weeks, Intellectual Ink Magazine will feature black bookstores across the country and abroad. Today we honor Hakim's Bookstore in Philadelphia



The sky is clear though minds may not be. Smoldering mental states from the latest conflict are eerily apparent upon the faces of many. A few emboldened store owners are rebuilding their life’s dream as the community rehabs.

While crossing the intersection of 52nd Street & Walnut Street, I scan left and right to survey the businesses that have been unscathed by the recent unrest. I then proceed into the hallowed halls of Hakim’s Bookstore & Gift Shop. Once inside, you begin to feel its rich history wrapping its arms around you and welcoming you home. I happily wait for the mass of patrons to clear so I can conduct our interview. As a child, I too stood in this very spot, mind wide open, and listened to the patriarch Hakim impart his wisdom. This establishment has survived many a tidal wave, yet fortunately for our people, it has not been washed away.

The patriarch Hakim transitioned to the essence some years ago, so this afternoon I have the distinct pleasure of sitting down with one of his daughters, Yvonne Blake.

My first question to satisfy inquiring minds is, “What year did your father establish this institution?”

“Hakim’s Bookstore actually debuted in 1959 at 5219 Walnut Street. We then relocated to 60th & Walnut Streets. Later, we relocated again to our current address, 210 South 52nd Street, in the heart of West Philadelphia. We also had a location in Atlanta, Georgia, near Five Points for many years that we closed once my father transitioned.”

“Why do you believe it was important for him to open a bookstore in this community?”

Yvonne answers, “Because we are of this community. My father worked as an accountant for the City of Philadelphia and sacrificed greatly until he retired and opened his initial location. He believed it was essential that knowledge of self was readily available for the overall betterment of our people.”

“Did the patriarch Hakim have any other interests or hobbies that you’d care to share?”

Without hesitation, Yvonne replies, “My father was a staunch advocate of education. I have people that come into this store daily and tell me how thankful they are that my father mentored them and guided their lives in a positive direction. He was very worldly and extremely well versed in many subjects. He traveled the world extensively. My father was a huge lover of jazz music, but I have to say nothing compared to the love he had for his family.”

“How would you say this neighborhood has fared over the last 60 years of this institution’s installation?”

“There has often been a progression, which is often followed by regression. For the most part, the 52nd Street community of businesses and the surrounding neighborhoods have always risen to the top.”

“When did your father progress to the essence?”

“My father transitioned, April 27, 1997, and since that time, my sisters, my daughter, his grandchildren, and I have maintained his legacy.

We promised him that we’d carry the torch into the future, which was monumental to us. This establishment was the first African American owned and operated bookstore on the entire East Coast. My father fought for literacy, consciousness, and the overall great health of our people. He was one of the first stores that sold books written by African American authors and Islamic literature and books that focused on Black History. He was also one of the few distributors of coconut water and shea butter. All of which had been a passion of his since the ’60s.”

“Is there anything that you’d like to leave with the many supporters and avid readers that have passed through this glorious wonderland?”

“I’d like to thank all of our many supporters throughout the years for their unwavering patronage. You all have literally been a saving grace. I am humbled daily to know that so many people held my father in such high regard. He poured countless hours into his bookstore and wanted this so badly for his people. My father’s dedication to educating us was so important. He initially sold books out of the trunk of his car until he could afford his own storefront. He was that concerned with giving what he thought was necessary to the people.”

Please support the bookstore for our people: Hakim’s Bookstore & Gift Shop210 South 52nd Street Philadelphia, PA 19139