CHICAGO—The Hyde Park neighborhood has been home to Frontline Books and Crafts, which also operates as a publishing company, since 2004. It’s a bookstore focused on Black liberation and community education—selling books on Pan-Africanism, the Nation of Islam, the Rastafari movement, Black history, metaphysics, and more.
With the combination of the pandemic and a steep rent increase, Frontline in Hyde Park is now facing possible eviction. Bookstore founder Sekou Tafari opened three locations: the first in the late 1980s in suburban Evanston, Illinois, at 609 W. Harvard Street, Unit A, and another spot at 6357 S. Cottage Grove, also in Chicago in 2020. The Hyde Park location, which is the flagship store, opened in 2004, is the only one at risk of closing.
“Because of the pandemic, we’re not getting a lot of traffic because other people are not out in the world. So that’s the problem. If people don’t come and spend money, you don’t have money to buy back stock, you don’t have money to buy stuff or pay your expenses, and you don’t have enough money to pay the biggest expenses which are your rent and wages,” says Mr. Tafari.
He says Frontline did get money from pandemic assistance, but it was only enough to pay employees. The store used to employee six people but has since cut down to only three workers. Rent is the real point of pain for Frontline with the store being months behind. During the 17 years the bookstore has made Hyde Park its home, $900 monthly rent for the space has been in place until recently when the rent was increased to $4,000 a month.
Over the years, major changes have taken place in the Hyde Park area after the University of Chicago acquired a large portion of real estate in the area. Rent and taxes grew significantly.
Frontline hosted book signings and poetry slams before the pandemic. It also acted as a publishing house, putting out books from a variety of local authors.
One of those authors, Abolade Tayo, has known Tafari for over 50 years. The two met in their home country of Trinidad. Tayo says that Frontline’s impact has been huge, especially for Black writers.
“Sometimes it’s hard, like some of these companies, they want a whole bunch of money upfront and all this kind of stuff, you know, and Frontline waived that,” says Tayo.
Tayo, who has written over 26 books, is currently selling “A Taste of Mama Nature” at Frontline.
On a recent Saturday, the bookstore held a Customer Appreciation Day, which offered free food, live music, performances, and 15 percent discounts on all items.
Chicago resident Benji Malcolm said, “I really appreciate the ability to be able to come somewhere and find something that’s authentic to my culture.”
Asantewaa Oppong Wadie, founder of the Indigo Nation Homeschool Association based in Chicago, added, “I think it represents such a monumental loss when a bookstore closes because we are always trying to reclaim the missing pages of U.S. history, and world history, and I’m a historian by craft.”
“I teach history on the homeschool level and college level, and so when we’re instilled with wrong information, we make wrong choices. I’m very fired up to make sure this store stays open. This store brings in African and Caribbean titles, and I really appreciate that.”
Dr. Tammye Mathews also shared the importance of the bookstore’s legacy. ““Frontline Bookstore has been around Hyde Park for 17 years and I have been a patron of this store for about that amount of time and I truly appreciate the opportunity to come up here to help keep this bookstore alive and relevant,” said Dr. Tammye Mathews, an Atlanta resident, who was visiting the Windy City, on Oct. 16.
“My grand babies are with me today and for them to see and experience a successful Black-owned business, as well as the energy of some amazing people that are attending this event today. I’m totally grateful that God allowed me to come up here and participate in Customer Appreciation Day.”
This location is an integral part of Hyde Park history, as for the last 30 years, authentic Black literature could be found here through: The Freedom Found, Reading Room, and Underground bookstores.
Tafari and his supporters are looking to raise $50,000 to keep the store afloat and has established a GoFundMe. Frontline Bookstore is located at 5206 S. Harper Avenue and is open every day, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. The bookstore can be reached at 773-288-7718. Books and other items can be purchased online at https://frontlinebookpublishing.com/shop/.
Shawntell Muhammad can be contacted at [email protected]