Uncle Bobbie’s to reopen with community support after burglary and vandalism

The coffee shop and bookstore from author Marc Lamont Hill is focused on uplifting Philly’s Black community.

Uncle Bobbie's Coffee & Books in 2019

Uncle Bobbie's Coffee & Books in 2019

Michaela Winberg / Billy Penn

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Update, Aug. 3:

Despite a second brick thrown through the front window during the same week as the first, Uncle Bobbie’s is reopening on Tuesday, Aug. 4 after being closed since March. The second vandalism incident did not result in any items stolen, and “we have more questions than answers,” cafe managers posted on Instagram.

Instead of concentrating on the negative, however, they want to focus on the positive: the great support from the community in helping clean up and make donations to help fund a relaunch. A GoFundMe set up at the beginning of the pandemic had notched nearly $90k in donations as of Monday morning.

Original story:

A burglary at Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee & Books left the Germantown cafe and community hub with a smashed front window and missing cash and equipment, according to the Philadelphia Police Department.

The incident happened late Saturday night or early Sunday morning before 1 a.m., owner Marc Lamont Hill said on Instagram, adding that “no one was hurt and we didn’t lose too much.”

As soon as daylight broke, neighbors began gathering at the cafe, at 5445 Germantown Ave., helping to sweep up broken glass and board over the gaping hole in the facade. The store’s many fans expressed dismay — as well as incredulity that anyone would target this specific shop, known for giving back to the community.

“I went over in between my son’s soccer games, it’s really heartbreaking,” neighbor Zakia Pugh told Billy Penn, estimating around 25 people were helping alongside her. “I don’t have any idea of what or whom would do such a thing… I am praying for them as well.”

Fareed Abdullah, a neighbor and political activist who recently ran for state rep in Germantown’s 198th Pa. House District, said he was driving by Sunday morning when he noticed the mess and pulled over to help.

“I was like, ‘Hold up, who would do this?'” Abdullah said. “Marc provides so much for the community.”

Two bricks appeared to have been thrown through the front plate glass, and there was a trail of what looked like blood around the interior, Abdullah said.

Police responded to the incident around 1:30 a.m., per department spokesperson Ofc. Miguel Torres, who said $650 and an iPad were taken from the property. “The investigation is active and ongoing with Northwest Detectives Division,” Torres said in an email.

Lamont Hill, a Philly native, is an author, media commentator and Temple professor. In 2017 he opened Uncle Bobbie’s, where he employs mostly people of color, serves foods that are traditionally African American and stocks books by mostly Black authors. The volumes are for sale, but there’s also a lending library which anyone can use for free.

The cafe has been closed since mid-March due to the pandemic, and has been raising survival money via GoFundMe to pay staff, rent, vendors and other obligations. People who want to help with repairs after the break-in can donate to that fund.

Abdullah, the former state representative candidate, noted that when he saw Lamont Hill, the cafe owner was calm and taking the whole thing in stride. “I asked what happened and he said, ‘You know how it is.’ He was just in disgust and trying not to show that he was in disgust.”

Lamont Hill did not immediately respond to a request for comment. He struck an optimistic tone in his Instagram post about the vandalism and robbery.

“I’m grateful for a loving community of people who believe in our mission and stand with us,” he wrote. “The hits may come, but we remain committed to fighting, dreaming, loving, and building for the world we want to see. Forward ever!”

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