Front line and letter booksThe Rastafari and Pan-African store off 53rd Street has closed its Hyde Park location, but its owner says they plan to return to the neighborhood eventually.
The store, which has also long been a community venue and publishing house, closed its doors at 5206 S. Harper Ave. On September 4, ending 17 years.
to me last yearFrontline owner Ras Sekou Tafari has raised funds to save its storefront, under financial strain due to rising operating costs and reduced sales caused by the pandemic.
“We were struggling to deal with the high rent… (and) due to COVID-19, we had to close for that time period in 2020,” Tafari said.
Tafari said that during the summer of 2020, there was an influx of clients in response to the police killing of George Floyd, launching a national movement to support black business and reading black authors.
“But then the money ran out,” he said.
Frontline received about $35,000 in federal pandemic funding around this time, but Tafari said it went toward employee wages and rent repayments, rather than making up for lost merchandise sales.
He added that paying for labor for the small adjacent tobacco shop (which enabled the bookstore space to be more child-friendly) drained the money available for rent.
The rent for the Hyde Park space—the shop and office above it—was more than $5,000 a month; A steep increase from the $900 he paid in 2011. In August, the property’s property management company, Winnemac Management Properties, refused to accept Frontline’s rent payment because they were months late.
That was the beginning of the end, Tafari said.
Growing up in the Caribbean and spending time in England, Tafari saw how community libraries served as libraries and safe spaces for the black community. He opened Frontline in 2004, calling it “true” because “there are no lies,” where people can come and read Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, Angela Davis and Amos Wilson.
Before the pandemic, Frontline hosted book signings, lectures, poetry encounters, and spoken word performances.
Over the years, the Frontline space has also been home to three other black bookstores: The Freedom Found, Reading Room, and The Underground Bookstore. The Underground Bookstore is one of the few remaining Afrocentric and black-owned bookstores in Chicago, now located at 1727 E. 87th St.
Russell Norman, who organized the Frontline GoFundMe campaign and last October Customer Appreciation Day A fundraiser said that when he recently went to catch up with Petfre, he found the storefront empty.
“They destroyed, basically, a historical library that had been around for a decade,” Norman said. “And not just a bookstore, it was a meeting place; people would have celebrations there, events, and performances by legendary artists all over the world.”
Frontline also held a fundraising campaign in May, with African-centric food and music, in a last-ditch effort to stave off the lockdown. Shop fans have been asked to do so Donation and buy ‘Book Sets’, which consist of a variety of books under a theme, such as ‘Philosophy and Opinion’ or ‘The Stolen Legacy: Lessons for the African Peoples’.
However, Tafari said, “it had no real effect.” The GoFundMe It raised just $4,448 of its $50,000 goal.
Front Line used to have three locations, but their location at 63rd Street and Cottage Grove Avenue also closed this past January for financial reasons.
Now, Front Line has consolidated its merchandise at its remaining Evanston location. “What we plan to do is put some energy into the Evanston space, to work with the Evanston community to build this place.” Front Line North609 W. Howard Street, opened in 2019.
Then Tafari said, “(After) building up the space slowly, we want to go back to the south.”
“It will be Hyde Park eventually, but we may also open up to cheaper spaces before we get to Hyde Park,” Tafari added.
“Because Hyde Park was good for us,” he continued. “It has its strengths and its weaknesses. Weakness is the high cost of being there. But we were able to thrive in Hyde Park, until the economy started to deteriorate.”
They are still a publishing house, and the Frontline online store is still open at frontlinebookpublishing.com.