How Germantown rallied behind Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee & Books amid COVID-19 and a series of burglaries
Without support from the surrounding community, General Manager Justin Moore says he doesn’t think the coffee and book shop would have survived.
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In 2017, Marc Lamont Hill, activist, author, and professor at Temple University, didn't think that children living in the Germantown section of Philadelphia had a bookstore to represent them.
So, on Aug. 27, 2017, Hill decided to open a bookstore so that members of the community could have a safe haven where they could discuss politics, read books, and have some coffee while doing so.
Hill named his bookstore Uncle Bobbie’s, in honor of his uncle.
“Marc is from Germantown so it made sense to open a bookstore where he grew up. It all happened in six-seven months,” Justin Moore, general manager of Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee and Books said in a recent interview with AL DÍA News.
The bookstore takes pride in serving and representing their community by striving to bring books that represent their clientele.
“General bookstore chains don't really have books in stock that reflect our customers, for instance, our children’s book section will have a lot of covers with Black and Brown kids all over the cover and that is something that we made a priority,” Moore said.
Children are more likely to read books that have characters who look like them on the cover.
This can help them with their self-esteem, and make them feel more validated.
“‘We like to make sure that characters have a lot of colors,” he said. “It's not just Black authors, we also represent Latino-x, and Asians,” said Moore. Diversity is essential to us, we make sure that everyone has representation in our store.”
Hill and his team also wanted to have a lot of book signings and open book readings. They believed that these activities can help tie the community together.
“We really want people to come in and have discussions with one another about anything, we also really want to make reading cool,” Moore said.
All of the fun activities and get-togethers abruptly stopped when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and the bookstore had to close its doors in the Spring of 2020.
“This was a very tough time for us, we didn't know what to do, we didn't want to close down but of course, we had no choice,” Moore said.
Not only were they devastated by the closure of their store, they also experienced multiple burglaries in the span of only four months.
“When this started happening in the late summer, we were already closed for 4-5 months, everybody in the world was dealing with so much trauma, that this was just one thing on top of another,” he said.
Moore believed that if it weren't for the immense support of the neighborhood, Uncle Bobbie’s wouldn’t have survived.
“The way we got through with all of the stress and burglarizing is the unwavering and intense support from the community,” he said.
In just two days, the bookstore was back in business and they never looked back.
“There was a line out the door, all day, it amazed me how much support we had, people were waiting outside in the middle of the summer for 6 hours,” he explained.
Hill decided to keep on doing what they love, which is provide books to the neighborhood of Germantown and welcome people to come check out their place with open arms.
“A person in his position could be doing a lot of different things with his money, and for him to do a bookstore in Germantown, it says a lot about his character,” Moore said.
If you are in the mood to expand your horizons and take a trip to Germantown, please check out Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee and Books and enjoy a cup of coffee and a slice of sweet potato pie while you’re at it.
This article is part of Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project among more than 20 news organizations focused on economic mobility in Philadelphia. Read all of our reporting as brokeinphilly.org.