The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Hakim’s Bookstore, a ‘South 52nd Street staple’

Yvonne Blake, the current owner of Hakim’s Bookstore, sits behind the counter of the shop while addressing a customer. PHOTOS: ALEX HARGRAVE ’20/THE HAWK

Before Christmas, Joseph Sparks set out to buy a Bible, along with various other books, for a boy at his church in West Philadelphia. Sparks, now a Delaware County resident, knew exactly where to go.

Sparks went to a bookstore he has been going to since he was in high school over 50 years ago: Hakim’s Bookstore. The shop is the oldest African American bookstore in Philadelphia and on the East Coast, according to Yvonne Blake, the current owner of Hakim’s.

Blake said her father, Dawud Hakim, started selling books out of the trunk of his car before establishing a brick and mortar store located around the corner from Hakim’s current storefront on South 52nd Street.

“My dad’s goal when he started the store was to not just educate African Americans but everybody about African American history,” Blake said. “And to let people know that our history did not begin in slavery, which is what I was even taught when I was in school in the ’60s.”

Hakim’s Bookstore specializes in African American history and is open four days a week on 52nd Street.

Customers come into the store and often stay for long periods of time to socialize. Neighbors run into one another, catching up on matters like vacations, weddings and new grandchildren. Behind the cash register, staff answer questions about new titles and how their families are doing.

Angela Butler, Blake’s daughter and Hakim’s granddaughter, is at the store when she can be, also working full time for the School District of Philadelphia, where she said she tends to meet people who have visited her grandfather’s store.

“I love hearing people tell stories about my grandfather and what made them come here to get educated and how they became a success from learning about their own history,” Butler said.

Hakim’s specializes in African American history, and approximately half of the store space is devoted to children’s books, each depicting an African American child on the cover. Representation like this is something people cannot find in mainstream bookstores, creating a demand for them at Hakim’s, according to Butler.

This book is an example of Hakim’s ability to present unique perspectives through a collection of niche authors.

One book, written by local author Jamila Tucker-Mulero called “Jay Just Wants to Play,” a story about an African American boy with autism, is displayed in the very front of the store.

“We’re here and we have the ability to help [local authors] showcase their work and get started,” Blake said. “My father used to always take in books from new authors and he always tried to give people a hand up. Once he got established, he wanted to help other people do the same thing.”

It has been 22 years since Hakim passed away, but talking about him still brings tears to Blake’s eyes. According to Blake, customers often tell her about Hakim’s impact on their lives, from giving them their first book to even keeping them out of prison. This is why she promised him before he died that she would keep the store running.

“I didn’t realize I was going to have to take over something that was so near and dear to him, but it’s fulfilling,” Blake said. “It makes me feel proud and it keeps me coming in every day.”

Despite Blake’s passion, Hakim’s has struggled like many independent bookstores. At one point in 2015, the store was on the verge of closing and was only open one day per week.

That year, she was approached by Chris Arnold, a 31 year old who saw value in the store and offered to help in marketing and communications. Now, he serves as the store’s community engagement specialist, managing the store’s website and social media. Blake said Arnold keeps the store up to date with the “changing times.”

Arnold fits in well, greeting each customer with the phrase, “Peace and love, welcome to Hakim’s bookstore.”

Now, Hakim’s is open four days per week, which Blake hopes will eventually increase to five or six. Blake also participated in the Power Up Your Business program at the Community College of Philadelphia where she said she was one of the oldest people in the class, and certainly the one with the oldest business.

Sparks said he had driven by once and saw Hakim’s was closed, which made him think they were closed permanently. The thought made him tearful, he said.

“It’s been a staple on 52nd Street,” Sparks said. “Back in the late ’60s and early ’70s, there was an awakening and folks wanted information. This is where you came. You got things from a black viewpoint. You treasured that, and you found books here that you would go downtown
and didn’t see.”

Hakim’s participates in the iBuyBlack discount card program, which offers discounts and other perks to customers shopping at 213 black-owned businesses in Philadelphia. At Hakim’s cardholders receive 10% off of their purchases. Only 2.5% of Philadelphia businesses are black or African American owned, according to a recent Pew report.

For students at St. Joe’s, a trip three miles down the road to Hakim’s is worthwhile, according to Glenda Cook, who has worked at the store for over 35 years with Hakim as her mentor.

Cook works at the store every Saturday.

“[St. Joe’s students] would learn a lot,” Cook said. “They would be surprised of the history and the culture of the Afro-American people.”

Leave a Comment
Donate to The Hawk News

Your donation will support the student journalists of St. Joseph's University. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to The Hawk News

Comments (0)

All The Hawk News Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *