You May recognize Marc Lamont Hill from his appearances on CNN or Fox, where he is a political commentator who doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Maybe you’ve seen him on Temple’s campus, where he is a professor of media and urban studies. Or maybe you’re into VH1 Live!, which he hosts. He’s taken on another local project: In November he opened Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee & Books, bringing the number of black-owned bookstores in the United States to 55.
Hill, 39, named the café—which is housed in a beautiful 1930s home across the street from Germantown’s historic Market Square—after his late uncle, Bobbie Lee Hill, whom he credits with opening his mind and sparking a lifelong love of reading. His hope is that the space will foster community and empower folks to pick up a book—as he saw local black-owned bookstores like the Gallery’s Basic Black Books do until it closed in the early aughts. To that end, the store boasts an itinerary of readings, movie screenings and cultural celebrations, such as a recent screening of Oscar-winning flick Moonlight and a Kwanzaa gathering. Bookshelves are stocked with a selection of black literature—works by James Baldwin, New York Times best-selling novelist E. Lynn Harris and YA newcomer Angie Thomas—and educational page-turners in the history, politics and economics sections.
The cozy café side offers La Colombe coffee drinks and a selection of teas, pastries and ready-to-go soups and salads. The space has several rooms and plenty of leather couches on which to stretch out. You’re welcome to bring a laptop and tune out on your headphones, but it wouldn’t hurt to unplug and make a new friend over coffee and a great book.
Hill admits that “market forces” make it difficult to open any kind of retail space these days, particularly a bookstore, but he believes that Uncle Bobbie’s is something the community will rally around. If the long line of folks who showed up on opening day is any indication, he may be right.
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