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Photo courtesy of Hakim's Bookstore
Photo courtesy of Hakim's Bookstore

Hakim’s Bookstore in West Philly has showcased Black history since 1959

Yvonne Blake continues to honor her father’s legacy by running the historic bookstore.

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Dawud Hakim's biggest love in life was to educate others through books, which is why he opened Hakim’s Bookstore in 1959 in West Philadelphia.

Hakim originally became interested in the work of Jamaican historian and journalist, Jay A. Rogers, who wrote 100 Amazing Facts About the Negro with Complete Proof and The Five Negro Presidents. The books inspired Hakim to highlight the importance of educating others about the real truth of Black history.

“What was being taught in schools and the way America itself was educated about African-Americans is that our History began with slavery,” Yvonne Blake, the late founder’s daughter, said in an interview with AL DIA News. “When my father found that that was not true, he became interested in sharing that knowledge with others.”

Hakim initially began selling books out of the trunk of his car, but when he initially opened his brick-and-mortar store on 52nd and Walnut Street, business wasn't booming.

However, when word got around that Hakim’s Bookstore offered an abundance of novels, books, and biographies about talented Black authors and prominent Black leaders, it took off.

The store has been through many hardships, including the 2015 recession. That year, the U.S. economy was so slow that several stock markets around the globe fell hard, affecting countless businesses and jobs.

Blake saw a dramatic change in her own business at the time.

“I was about to give it up until I received a lot of encouragement from people who knew my father and have been coming here since the 60s told me, ‘You cannot close this store,’ so we began having in-store events,” she said.

As the store was still in the process of recovery in 2020, George Floyd was killed, leading to racial and political uproar across the country.

Millions across the country were outraged and began looting in big cities including New York City and Philadelphia.

Business owners in Philadelphia became extremely concerned about their stores being destroyed, including Blake.

Luckily, her business was left untouched, and she also noticed her online sales had tripled.

“It was a very horrible thing that happened to George, but it also became a turning point,” said Blake. “We have a lot of whites moving back into the neighborhood. And they seem to be very supportive of the store so they're buying books about African-Americans for their children.”

Sales are beginning to sky rocket for the independent bookstore and it’s getting the recognition it rightfully deserves. For instance, the business was selected in 2021 by ESPN's Champion Black Businesses initiative. It was the only Black-owned business from Philadelphia selected.

“We have been really busy and it has been really really overwhelming,” she said.

For Blake, the success is bittersweet.

“I was here in the beginning when my father was struggling at the time,” Blake said. “He had made a success of the store, but when he passed away, [in 1997], the economy went in the toilet.”

Hakim’s has been through countless hardships, but the business continues to surge.

Its collection of rare novels and books written by Black authors continue to spark the interest of customers.

Some of their best sellers include: Assata: An Autobiography, The Biography of Malcolm X, and Across that Bridge, by late Civil Rights leader, John Lewis.

Their collection also includes hundreds of children’s books such as, Black is a Rainbow Color by Angella Joy and Freedom on the Menu by Carole Boston Weatherford.

Check out thousands of books, totes, and artifacts at Hakim’s Bookstore & Gift Shop at 210 S. 52nd St.

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