Hue-Man Bookstore & Café, Harlem’s Reading Sanctuary

By Karen Raglin
Karen Raglin
Karen Raglin
January 1, 2009 Updated: January 1, 2009

NEW YORK—Hue-Man Bookstore may not be a Barnes & Nobel, Borders, or B. Dalton bookstore, and by many accounts it has not achieved their level of popularity. So when you are out shopping for a best-selling novel it may not immediately show up on your radar.

Although, during a recent interview with Hue-Mans co-owner and CEO Marva Allen, she described the beauty behind her book sanctuary and the life it has given to a community that has been underserved for years.

 According to Ms. Allen, Hue-Man is a unique bookstore that offers a unique experience. It is purposely designed afro-centric in style with a vast collection of literary work by or about African Americans; yet it also includes a tall list of New York Times best-sellers, and titles authored by Caribbean and African writers.

Hue-Man bookstore is located in the center of Harlem on Eighth Avenue, nestled between 124th and 125th Streets; moderate in size at approximately 4000 square feet, it attracts local residences that come to meet friends, purchase books, or simply enjoy a cup of tea. Now open six years, Hue-man is the only African American bookstore in Harlem and has evolved from a simple bookstore to a reading sanctuary.

I joined this bookstore in 2002 as a volunteer consultant, said Ms. Allen after having retired from USI a multi million-dollar technology firm out of Southfield, Michigan; where she was co-owner and President. In a soft-spoken voice, accompanied by a chic Jamaican accent, Ms. Allen explained that she came to Hue-Man to develop a growth strategy. She believed that with her extensive business management skills and proven ability to successfully build a business her work would be value added to Hue-Man. Ms. Allen said, Hue-Man bookstore is a movement towards being progressive and making better citizens which translates to improved reading habits and love for literature.

In 2003, Ms. Allen became deeply involved in the bookstore going from one day per week to five and in 2004 became a majority partner and CEO. Together with her partners, she continued to restructure the business by adding a reading room where numerous book signings have taken place. Ms. Allen created a venue through her bookstore that ultimately brought to Harlem as she says, a new Harlem where authors and celebrities are engaging and involved with neighborhood people.

Over the past several years, Hue-Man has been host to former President Bill Clinton, poet Maya Angelou, minister TD Jakes, and actress Angela Bassett to name a few. Hue-Man has also collaborated with several local public schools to form a reading program that is driven through the Melvin Van Peebles Foundation; a foundation where Ms. Allen holds the position of Artistic Director.

Inspired by her own passion for change and to positively impact the lives of others, Ms. Allen insists that Hue-Man has clearly made a difference, it is a sanctuary that informs, says Ms Allen. This store is economically driven Marva Allen said, and while Hue-Man does not measure to the level of popularity or income stream as a Barnes & Noble it has provided jobs, and creates possibilities; we can control our image, says Ms. Allen, which she believes will set Hue-Man a part from the rest.

Ms. Allen is very proud of Hue-Mans evolution and says, We need to participate in our own success, we cant put destiny in others hands, therefore the future of Hue-Man will always be a work in progress. With the retail book industry constantly changing, Hue-Man has some new ideas for 2009, beginning with the search of a larger space, vamped up marketing to diversify and reflect the changing neighborhood, a possible name change and building new alliances.

Hue-Man is Harlem's most treasured secret and Marva Allen is the woman behind its story. Allen is the recipient of several business awards, including the IBM & Kodak Excellence Award, Crain's 40 under 40, and most recently, The New York Urban League community award, among others. She has two published titles under her belt and another pending review. Ms. Allen is a mom, mentor, humanitarian and most importantly, a friend. When Iasked to give her outlook of Hue-Man; she said "move to a Tyler Perry model; Hue-Man will be a reminder of people's history".

Karen Raglin