By Danielle Nelson
*This story is posted on The Spirit of Penn’s Garden website.
For many people in Philadelphia, Ikea, Raymour & Flanigan and Ashley Furniture Stores are merely an afterthought.
Instead, some turn to Uhuru Furniture Store at 832 N. Broad St., which has been collecting donated furniture such as scenic murals, leather sofas, patio sets, antique lamps, multi-drawer dressers, ceramic dinnerware, oak dining table set, wooden cupboards, coffee tables, night stands and selling them back to the community for the past 23 years.
“A lot of times, we’ll get furnitures from people who live or have lived in the Center City high-rises,” Michael Moody, the store’s Business Marketing Communications Director, said. “Often times it’s students who aren’t staying [at their residence] that long, so they constantly need to get rid of furniture because they are moving. Or it could be an older person who has passed away and their family needs to donate the furniture.”
In order to sell high-quality, reusable furniture, Ruby Gittelson, Uhuru’s sales manager, said there is a screening process that the store goes through before accepting and reselling donations.
“We don’t take the junky stuff,” Gittelson said. “If something looks bad, is not structurally sound, or has a bunch of stains on it, we don’t pick them up. We are discerning in what we pickup.”
Some of the furniture Uhuru sells starts at $5. In March, Uhuru started a “Give Back to the Community Bargain” program, which is furniture and collectible items sold at reduced prices to encourage quick sales. If a table, TV stand or chair is not sold within a week of arriving, the store will lower their asking price. When there is too much of something or if it’s a particular item that people need at a particular time of the year, Gittelson says the price is lowered for customers.
Empress B., a hand crafter who recently moved to Philadelphia, said she was impressed with her first visit to Uhuru.
“Bargain is the word and that is what they provide,” Empress said. “It is good to actually walk into a store that says bargain and they actually have it. Most times people say bargain and the bargain is still $95. It is appreciated that they mean what they say and say what they mean.”
Not all of the furniture at Uhuru is marked down, but nevertheless all proceeds from items sold items goes to the African People Education and Defense Fund (APEDF), a non-profit organization that aims to cater to African diaspora. APEDF aims to provide education in diet, health care and economic accountability through numerous events such as the annual Health Festival and Flea Market, which is run in partnership with Uhuru.
Tiffany Murphy, the coordinator of the Health Festival and Flea Market, believes events like this are necessary in the community because of a lack of access to healthcare and health education.
“At the Flea Market, there are going to be over a 100 vendors selling anywhere from jewelry to house ware items,” Murphy said. “The health festivals will have several health partners who will be offering health screening such as blood pressure testing and mental health assessment among other things.”
Much of the promotion for the events come from the Uhuru Furniture Store as people register as volunteers for the health festivals and flea market. While she was there, Empress registered for the flea market, which was held on April 23rd at Clark Park in West Philadelphia.
Empress spent much of her time in the store looking for storage pieces for the massive amount of yarn she uses. She said that she strongly support the idea of donating and then giving back to the community.
“Instead of mass production, how about we rotate the dollar amongst ourselves?” she said. “We all move and transfer, why not donate it to somewhere where they are going to fix it up and sell it? Recycling is great, we just have to use it.”
Aside from the donation and bargains she found at Uhuru, Empress said she likes the quality of the furniture and finds a great contrast from mainstream furniture stores.
“I found some great affordable pieces that are sturdy,” Empress said. “So I don’t have to run, coming back here because this drawer does work and I will be able to see and feel what’s right in front of me and it’s not wrapped up in plastic and I have to put it together because it’s already set and ready for me to buy because the price is written on it. I don’t have to go running around looking for customer service.”
While Uhuru is drawing new customers, their old customers haven’t forgotten them. Before the move to North Broad Street, Uhuru had a Center City storefront on Spruce St., where Patricia Fields was a regular. Fields bought and donated murals, dressers, lamps and dishes at the old location. But now, Fields goes to the new location frequently on her lunch break because the store is not too far from her job.
Fields now needs to get more furniture because she is moving into an apartment and needs a small dining room set. One of the most important things she has learnt over the years of buying and donating furniture is to buy quickly or else it will disappear.
“If you see something you like, you have to get it right away,” Fields said. “I saw a set outside and I said, ‘Oh, this is nice.’ Someone took it off the truck and they bought it 15 minutes later. It already had a sold sign on it.”
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