The Story We See - 2015

Harlem’s New Culture

Ian Flickinger
by Ian Flickinger

Once one of the most widely recognized neighborhoods in the African American community, Harlem has undergone a transformation over the last decade, and for the first time ever the makeup is not predominantly black. The concept of gentrification is nothing new; countless communities have changed, and with that, so too has their demographics. According to The New African Magazine, “Only 672 whites lived in central Harlem in 1990, according to census figures. By 2000, that number had leapt to 2,200. By 2008, this had doubled and tripled and quadrupled to 13,800. Since then, many more white people have come to Harlem and many more are on their way”. Cheap rent, access to downtown via a quick subway ride, and being able to maintain a “Manhattan presence” are typical responses when people are asked why they made the move to the Upper Westside neighborhood. A community once synonymous with jazz music and the Civil Rights movement has become an increasingly popular landing spot for incoming 20-something year-old whites’ – businesses, in turn, are taking notice.
Over the last decade name brand retail outlets typically catering to a different culture have opened shops throughout the corners of the Avenues and 125 block including, Urban Outfitters, Old Navy, American Apparel, and the Gap. So too, have numerous coffee shops, boutiques, upscale restaurants, and art galleries.
However, African American business owners aren’t necessarily fighting these openings; in fact in most cases they are encouraging them. According to Nikoa Evans-Hendricks , former owner of “N Boutique”, and co-founder of Harlem Park to Park, the African American Community is inviting to anyone trying to move or open a business in the neighborhood – as long as they conscious of the history and community pride that comes with joining. “For the most part the new businesses have been great, the owner of Filtered (Filtered Coffee Shop on Amsterdam) came into the community and was engaging, got involved, and most importantly gave back—and this is now his third store in the area”. Hendricks says that for the most part businesses join Harlem Park To Park, a community-based business organization upon joining (or even before locating, in some cases), and are welcomed to the community. However, the few who choose not to join have seen their business suffer.
Erin Williams, Manager at Filtered Coffee, says the community, where she herself lives, has been welcoming. She says neighbors and other stores have all stopped by and offered their introductions and best wishes. “It’s a great community, and it has a great location – right next to the college, so it’s good for us, and everyone has been so great, honestly,” Williams said.
While a new culture of ideas, people, businesses, and shops has been created, the mix between “Old Harlem” and “New” is going smoothly, with neither side looking to eliminate the other – instead, hopes of one, cohesive new community is on the horizon.