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.
Uhuru: Unlikely to look like this anymore.
Uhuru, the used-furniture store at Spruce at Camac streets, is moving after nearly two decades in its spot. If you've just bought furniture there, you may remember it for how incredibly crammed it is with furniture, which is nearly always stacked up in Jenga towers almost to the ceiling. It's different from many thrift stores in more than that, though:
Uhuru Furniture is an economic development project of the African People's Education and Defense Fund (APEDF). For [nearly 20] years, we have collected furniture donations from community supporters like you and put them up for sale at our storefront location at 1220 Spruce St. Supporters contribute to this work by donating furniture, shopping and volunteering. Uhuru Furniture is different than a charity thrift store - 100% of the profits benefit APEDF!
Uhuru Furniture represents the sector of Philadelphia that wants to see genuine change and support sustainable economic development by and for the African community.
Our Mission: APEDF strives to develop and institutionalize programs 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 in the African community.
We wandered over today, their last day open on Spruce Street, and talked to a couple people about the move to a new, much larger space on North Broad at Parrish Street, which they say is a result of gentrification in the Gayborhood. First up was sales coordinator Ruby Gittelsohn.
City Paper: So why is Uhuru moving?
Ruby Gittelsohn: Well, we lost our lease. We’ve been here for almost 20 years, it’d have been 20 years in August; you know, they’re gentrifying the area, and we helped develop this area and make it more livable for the community, and now we’re getting gentrified out. So we wanted to turn a bad thing into a good thing; we’re moving to our new place which is much bigger, we knew we needed a bigger place.
It’s always pretty stacked up in here.
Yes. (Laughs.) So our new place is 832 N. Broad, Broad and Parrish between Fairmount and Girard; it’s, like, four times bigger, so we’ll be able to have more merchandise, we’re not gonna have five couches piled on top of each other…
Are you going to have, like, two couches piled on top of each other?
Well… I don’t want to say yet. I’m sure we’ll have a little piling, but way less. The place is much bigger … we’re going to be able to have health events there, and community programs, and meetings, we have our new line, called African Styel at Uhuru, which is furniture upholstered in African fabric, so there’s a lot of things we’re going to be able to do there that we’re not able to do here.
It looks like you’re going to be moving in, like, one day.
We’re going to be opening on Saturday, February 1.
This is a ton of furniture to move. How are you going to do it?
Well, people have been working over at the new place for quite a while. And, you know, we have two trucks, we have a whole bunch of big strong men, and we’re gonna move everything out tomorrow, and Saturday we’ll be open in the new place. It’s two days, but we’re going to make it happen. We have a lot of experienced movers.
How many trips do you think it’s going to be?
Well… probably like 12, something like that.
Probably people who are good at moving don’t hate it as much as people who only do it once a decade, but that sounds so miserable.
Well, at least it’s not going to be snowing or raining tomorrow. [Grabs a mover walking by.] You see these mighty people here?
Mover: [Points to his bicep inside his coat.] Those muscles — it don’t show, but it’s there. [Laughs.]
We also talked to Lisa Burgess on the marketing team about the move a bit more. She and another woman were working on computers in what they jokingly call the marketing office, a tiny piece of floor space in the back almost completely surrounded by towers of furniture that they're looking forward to trading in for something a bit bigger.
City Paper: So why did you lose your lease?
Lisa Burgess: Well, Center City keeps going after corporations and big businesses and building up high-rises and so small businesses — and historically, the black community have been pushed out and gentrified out, all over the city. So we see this as a part of that, that we got outpriced and asked to leave. The landlord probably wants to make more money on some higher commercial venture. But we’re really happy about our new space.
How did you find that new space?
We met up with some real-estate agents for a spot up on North Broad; a mistake had been made, and they didn’t realize that the space was on the second floor, which would absolutely not work for us. So the guy was like, “You know, there’s something right up the block, but I’ve never been able to reach the people, you want to just peek at it?” So we get there and immediately have the feeling that this is the space for us. It’s beautiful, it’s its own building, the windows are gorgeous — it just felt right.
The guy who was with us had never been able to reach the owner, though he’d tried many times and left messages, he was never able to get in touch with the owner of this building that’s been available for a long time. So he tries one more time, and he actually reaches a person, and that person is, like, “Hey, I never called you back because this is the wrong phone number.” So here’s this huge amazing space that a lot of people would be interested in with the wrong phone number on the front. We were able to do some investigating and found the right number, and now it’s our space! I feel like if that phone number had been right, then that place would have been snapped up a long time ago. It’s this huge sign on the building: Available, and the wrong phone number. It’s like it was waiting for us.
I live near there, and I know that building; I really empathize with being priced out, because that’s about to happen to me, my rent has gone up an insane amount as the fancy condos and restaurants have popped up on Broad. Are you worried about setting up your new home in an area that’s gentrifying after just being gentrified out of the Gayborhood?
That area has a real history, with the Divine Lorraine and a lot of political struggle based out of North Philly over the past several decades. We actually feel like it’s important that we’re there — we’re an organization that represents the interests of the black community; in a way, we’re coming to an area where the black community is getting pushed out, and we’re there to be a store for them — as well as everybody in the city. We look forward to getting involved with the local business association and CDC to advocate that the residents of the area receive the benefits of the work that they’re trying to do to build up that area — to bring prosperity to the area without pushing out the black community.
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