Frontline Books closes, plans to eventually return to Hyde Park Evening Digest

Frontline Books and CraftsRastafari and Pan African stores near 53rd Street have closed their Hyde Park locations, but owners say they plan to eventually return to the neighborhood.

The store, also a longtime community space and publishing house, closed on September 4 at 5206 S. Harper Ave., ending 17 years in business.

for last yearFrontline owner Ras Sekou Tafari has been raising funds to save the store, which is under financial pressure due to rising operating costs and a drop in sales due to the pandemic.

“We’re struggling with high rents … (and) we’ve had to shut down during that time in 2020 because of COVID-19,” Tafari said.

In the summer of 2020, a large number of clients responded to the police killing of George Floyd, which sparked a national movement to support black businesses and read black writers, Tafari said.

“But after that, the money dries up,” he said.

Frontline received about $35,000 in federal pandemic funding around this time, but Tafari said it was used to pay employees and pay rent, not cover lost merchandise sales.

He added that paying for labor for the adjoining small tobacconist, which makes the book sales space more child-friendly, also drained the funds available for rental.

Rent in Hyde Park – for the shop and the office above – is more than $5,000 a month; a sharp increase from the $900 he paid in 2011. In August, the building’s property management company, Winnemac Management Properties, refused to accept Frontline’s rent payments because they had been delayed for months.

That was the beginning of the end, Tafari said.







Sekou Tafari, Founder and CEO of Frontline Books, 5206 S. Harper Ave.




Growing up in the Caribbean and spending time in England, Tafari saw how community bookstores acted as libraries and safe spaces for black communities. He opened Frontline in 2004, calling it “true” because “there are no lies” and people can come in and read Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, Angela Davis and Amos Wilson.

Before the pandemic, Frontline hosted book signings, lectures, poetry slams and spoken word performances.

Front Space has also been home to three other black bookstores over the years: Free Discovery, Reading Room, and Underground Bookstore. The Underground Bookstore, one of the few remaining Afrocentric and Black-owned bookstores in Chicago, is now located at 1727 E. 87th St.

Russell Norman, who organized the Frontline GoFundMe event and last October’s Customer Appreciation Day The fundraiser said that when he stopped by Tafari recently, he found the store empty.

“Essentially, they destroyed a historic landmark bookstore that had been around for ten years,” Norman said. “And it’s not just a bookstore, it’s a meeting place; there are celebrations, events and performances by legendary artists from around the world.”

Frontline also held a fundraiser in May, along with food and Afro-centric music, in an eventual effort to avoid closure.Supporters of the store are called to donate And buy “School Bags” that contain various books under one topic, such as “Philosophy and Perspectives” or “Stolen Legacy: Lessons for Africans”.

However, it “didn’t really work,” Tafari said.This GoFundMe Only $4,448 of the $50,000 goal was raised.

Frontline used to have three locations, but their locations at 63rd Street and Cottage Grove Avenue also closed in January for financial reasons.

Frontline has now consolidated its merchandise into its remaining Evanston location. “What we’re planning to do is put some energy into the Evanston space and work with the Evanston community to build this place.” Northern Front609 W. Howard St., opened in 2019.

Then, “[after]slowly building up the space, we wanted to go back to the South,” Tafari said.

“It will end up being Hyde Park, but we may also open up cheaper spaces before we get to Hyde Park,” Tafari added.

“Because Hyde Park has treated us well,” he continued. “It has its strengths and weaknesses. The weakness is the high cost there. But we were able to thrive in Hyde Park until the economy started to slide.”

They still act as publishers, and Frontline’s online store remains open at frontlinebookpublishing.com.

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