Simply put, Sekou Tafari’s Frontline Book Store in the Hyde Park community’s Harper Court area is doing “very bad.”
On one particular day last week, the store made $41 in cash for its total day’s receipts.
That kind of financial performance has Tafari trying his best to keep his business from going under as the mass construction of new businesses takes place in the trendy, diverse South Side neighborhood.
“We’re holding on every day,” Tafari told the Chicago Citizen. “I’m on E right now.”
The Chicago Citizen checked on Frontline last year after the groundbreaking for The Harper Court redevelopment and construction got underway.
The bookstore owner, who has been at his current <address> location since 2005, knew that his business would be rather isolated in the area with a number of neighboring businesses already gone and scaffolding and construction equipment obstructing view of the bookstore. Tafari was poised to hold on, especially after being told, he said, by his Ald. Will Burns (4th) and others involved in the redevelopment that he wouldn’t be devastated by the construction project.
“It proved otherwise,” said Tafari, adding that when the project started he had sales as low as $19 a day. Before the construction started, he averaged sales of up to $2,500 per week.
“It (redevelopment construction) impacted us greatly,” Tafari admits.
Since last November, the small business owner has trimmed his staff from six to three employees and has converted all of them to a part-time status. Still Tafari is trying to hang in there because he is looking forward to an economic boost from the completed redevelopment project.
Frontline carries titles by African Diaspora authors and lesser known African American ones. The store also runs a printing press that several local schools use according to Tafari.
When construction wraps up next summer, The Harper Court redevelopment project on 53rd Street from Lake Park to Harper Avenues is expected to bring new retail, dining, entertainment and residential options to the area. The new 131-room Hyde Park Hyatt Place hotel that is being built on Harper Court will be the first hotel in the community in half a century.
Another neighbor on the block, a 12-story University office tower, will be a “gateway” to the community. A four-screen movie theater is expected to open on Harper Avenue before yearend. Such popular businesses as Starbucks, AKIRA and Chipotle on 53rd Street; ULTA Cosmetics and LA Fitness on Lake Park Avenue; and other restaurants joining mainstays Park 52 restaurant and jazz and blues venue Checkerboard Lounge on Harper Court are expected to move into their respective spots next spring.
Tafari called the redevelopment “progressive” as long as it doesn’t force smaller, lesser nationally known businesses out. He said the 1.1 million square feet mixed-use redevelopment – a project that is a partnership between the city and the University of Chicago – “changes the ambience of Hyde Park.”
He has at least two more years left on his lease and he hopes that rolling with the financial punches now will lead to some knockout sales for him later. Otherwise, the bookstore may have to look for a new home.
By Rhonda Gillespie