After 64 years providing books and culture in West Philadelphia, Hakim’s Bookstore is being commemorated with an official state historical marker
Step inside the 52nd Street establishment named after original owner Dawud Hakim, and you can almost hear the pages of history turning. Over the decades, the city’s longest operating Black-owned bookshop has solidified itself as a place for Afrocentric literature, gifts, and discourse.
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“[Hakim’s] is the first and the oldest African American bookstore opened in Philadelphia and on the East Coast,” said current owner Yvonne Blake, Dawud’s daughter. “We were a source of information and encouragement during the civil rights movement.”
Blake took over the family business in 2013, after learning the ropes from her father, she said. “Over the years, I’ve worked in the store off and on with my dad, when he was alive.”
The store maintains a familial atmosphere and offers reading material across a wide spectrum. Choices range from Afrofuturistic comics in the children’s section to biographical tomes like “The Five Negro Presidents.” The large selection necessitates personal interaction, Blake told Billy Penn.
“When customers come in and ask questions, we share experiences with them,” she said. “We give them a history of the bookstore and we promote books that will give them a basis.”
Blake said the date for installing the blue and gold marker, part of the statewide program administered by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, hasn’t yet been announced.
She believes it’s a fitting commemoration of all the milestones the bookstore had in the community.
“We were the first here in Philadelphia. In the same location for over 50 years. My father did something that people weren’t doing. It was not popular to sell books about African Americans written by African Americans,” Blake said. “We had withstood a lot of pressure.”
FBI agents frequently came to watch Hakim and how he operated the business, she said.
“They used to stand across the street look in the store, or they would come into the store, because they felt that something subversive was going on in the store,” Blake recalled. “I also have documentations, where they followed [my father] to meetings and they were always trying to tie African Americans into something negative.”
According to the Historical Commission’s press release, the marker will read:
Founded in the 1950s, Hakim’s Bookstore represents a center for Black activism, advocating the power of knowledge in the fight for racial justice. Since the 1960s, people have gathered here to access titles by Black authors. During the Civil Rights Movement it served as an alternative education center for the Black community.
Blake and her team have dealt with their own adversities. The COVID pandemic was rough on business, forcing all book signings and events to stop. In February of this year, the establishment almost closed due to a fire that nearly wiped out the front of the store.
It was thanks to longtime customers and assistance from the community that the store managed to continue thriving, Blake said, and now gain this recognition. “The Enterprise Center on 46th and Market was instrumental,” she said, “writing letters and encouraging people to support [the marker].”
She believes the designation will positively impact the community around the establishment.
“We want to make sure that long-standing businesses,” Blake said, “and especially African American businesses, still have a place here”