Emily Guendelsberger Emily is senior staff writer at Philadelphia City Paper. She enjoys writing about feminism, opera, television, arts ecosystems, music theory, people with weird jobs and pretty much everything involving money. You can also find her writing at the A.V. Club, the Guardian and other fine publications.
via Uhuru's Facebook page
Uhuru, the secondhand-furniture store at Spruce at Camac streets, moved to a new, much larger space on North Broad at Parrish this past weekend after nearly two decades in the Gayborhood. On their last day open on Spruce Street, employees were optimistic about the new space — “it’s, like, four times bigger, so … we’re not gonna have five couches piled on top of each other,” says sales coordinator Ruby Gittelsohn — but everyone seemed less than pleased about having to move.
“We lost our lease,” says Gittelsohn. “It’d have been 20 years in August … we helped develop this area and make it more livable for the community, and now we’re getting gentrified out.”
Uhuru is a casualty of a good thing — the growing societal acceptance of LGBTQ people. Starting in the early days of the movement, gay villages like the Castro, Chelsea, Soho and the Gayborhood sprang up as some of the only semi-safe places LGBTQ people could live and socialize openly. Now, most polls in the past year show that a majority of Americans support gay marriage. Even discounting the “Midtown Village” rebranding efforts and the decrease in crime over the past decade, the laws of economics decree that if there’s a limited supply of Gayborhood space, and the homophobia that kept demand low decreases, prices will rise.
Uhuru, though it's always been gay-friendly and has a lot of history in the neighborhood, isn't an LGBT business — it's a project of the African People's Education and Defense Fund, with a mission “to defend the human and civil rights of the African community and to address the grave disparities in education, health, health care and economic development.” It’s far from being the only business to be priced out of the Gayborhood in recent years, though — Giovanni’s Room, the country’s oldest LGBT bookstore, announced that it would close this year if the owner couldn’t find a buyer. Sisters, Philly’s only female-focused LGBTQ bar, closed in August. Robin’s Bookstore closed in 2012. And while standard-bearer Woody’s is doing fine, it did feel the need to open Rosewood, a directly attached craft-cocktail joint that doesn’t explicitly identify as a gay bar.
Uhuru’s new space opened on Saturday in North Philly as planned — Gittelsohn said the move, which she estimated involved 12 truckloads of furniture, went smoothly. There’s some stacks a la the old space, but they’re only about three levels at the highest. Gittelsohn made the very first sale at the new location — two barstools. “It was within the first two minutes,” she says. “People came right away. It was fabulous!”
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