A Bookstore Opens in Harlem

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Harlem USA, the 275,000-square-foot entertainment and retail mall on 125th Street in Manhattan -- the center of one of the nation's largest African-American communities -- will soon have an independent bookstore. According to store co-owner Rita Ewing, a writer and attorney, the Hue-Man Bookstore opens for business on July 29, with a grand opening celebration scheduled for August 1.

The 4,000 square-foot store includes a 400-square-foot café and gift section near the main entrance, which adjoins the mall's popular Magic Johnson Theaters. Hue-Man Bookstore joins major national retailers including Old Navy, The Disney Store, and HMV Music as Harlem USA tenants.

Ewing told BTW that she is learning the bookselling trade from one of the best, co-owner Clara Villarosa. Villarosa, who sold her successful Hue-Man Experience Bookstore in Denver several years ago after running it for 16 years, was considering retirement but believed ardently that the Harlem community could support a large independent bookstore with enough capital and energy behind it. According to a recent story in the New York Daily News, Ewing, who was formerly married to basketball star Patrick Ewing; Celeste Johnson, who is married to New York Knick forward Larry Johnson; and Villarosa all invested in the store and received $475,000 in financing from the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone Development Corporation.

The three women have had long affinities to books and bookstores. Several years ago, Johnson planned to open a bookstore in Charlotte, North Carolina, but changed plans when her husband was traded to the Knicks six years ago. Ewing helped to create a children's book series in 1998 titled Patrick's Pals (HarperCollins).

Ewing told BTW that the "icing on the cake" in founding this bookstore is how "precious and personal" a community bookstore is to the neighborhood. "This is so much bigger than our plans -- I never expected the kind of impact [the bookstore] would have on the entire community. People are always coming by, poking their heads in."

Plans for the August 1 grand opening are still tentative, according to the store owners, but many authors, including Maya Angelou, numerous politicians, and community leaders are expected to attend. -- Nomi Schwartz