A large yellow banner hanging over a storefront reads, "Uhuru Furniture and Collectibles ... driven by African Self-Determination." Another banner below the yellow one reads, "Going Out of Business." Furniture and housewares line the sidewalk outside of the store.
Uhuru Furniture & Collectibles, located on Grand Avenue in Oakland, is slated to permanently close on Oct. 22 after 34 years of business. Credit: Roselyn Romero

Longtime used furniture store Uhuru Furniture & Collectibles is set to close its Oakland and Philadelphia locations, with Oct. 22 being its last day on Grand Avenue.

The African People’s Education and Defense Fund (APEDF)—a national, Black-led nonprofit founded in 1994 to support self-determination for people of African descent that owns and operates both stores—announced the closures in a press release sent to The Oaklandside on Thursday.

Stephanie Midler, manager of the Oakland store, attributed the shutdowns to an economic system in the U.S. that is disfavorable to BIPOC communities and small business owners.

“The system is historically based on the extraction of resources from African, Indigenous, Puerto Rican, and Mexican communities, and these communities, including the small businesses that they have, are bearing the brunt of this economic crisis,” Midler said.

Staff at Uhuru Furniture & Collectibles on Oct. 6, 2023. From left to right: Lou Gates, Stephanie Midler, Jeanine Griswa, Christian Saengphachanh, and Michael Melancon. Credit: Roselyn Romero

Over the past 34 years, the brick-and-mortar has resold secondhand home goods and furnishings, offered to pick up donated furniture for free, and helped residents relocate through its Uhuru on the Move service, cementing its legacy as a fixture of the East Bay.

But since the COVID-19 pandemic, the costs of operating a business—including rent, fuel, supplies, and labor—have risen, making it more difficult for Uhuru Furniture to survive, even after both APEDF and Uhuru Furniture received COVID relief funds, according to Jeanine Griswa, assistant manager and business relations coordinator for the Oakland store.

“The state and federal governments are not trying to help small businesses,” said Griswa. “They don’t see the value of small businesses and community-based nonprofits, hence a lot of the hoops you’ve got to go through and the unreasonable expenses.”

Midler stressed that crime is not the reason behind the furniture store’s closure, adding that the current “crime wave” narrative erroneously pins the blame on Black communities that have suffered the most from gentrification.

“Instead of talking about these conditions that the economy has created, they’re blaming the people that are unable to sustain themselves and their families,” Midler said.

Over the past four decades, Oakland’s Black population has been on the decline, even though the city’s overall population has increased. Data from the most recent U.S. Census revealed that the number of Black people in the city decreased by 14% between 2010 and 2020.

In the decade earlier, between 2000 and 2010, approximately 34,000 Black residents moved out of Oakland, and over 10,000 students left Oakland Unified School District, representing a 24% decline in the city’s Black population, according to a 2020 report from PolicyLink, an Oakland-based nonprofit and research institute. The report also states that Black households have the highest housing cost burden out of other races or ethnicities, with 63% of Black Oakland renters in 2012 spending more than 30% of their income on rent.

Chocolate chip cookies sold by Uhuru Foods & Pies, one of the programs of the African People’s Education and Defense Fund, sit on the counter of Uhuru Furniture & Collectibles on Oct. 6, 2023. Credit: Roselyn Romero

Despite the store closures, APEDF’s other initiatives are expanding, including its African Independence Workforce Program (AIWP), which provides opportunities for formerly incarcerated African people to receive job training and employment across the country.

“Closing Uhuru Furniture is just part of the growing pains of the nonprofit,” said Griswa.

Uhuru Furniture & Collectibles will accept donations for furniture and housewares through Oct. 15 and will host an event on Oct. 22 to commemorate the shop on its final day.

Uhuru Furniture & Collectibles, 3742 Grand Ave. Open Wednesday through Sunday from 12-6 p.m. Closed on Monday and Tuesday.

Roselyn Romero covers small businesses for The Oaklandside as a 2023-24 Poynter-Koch Media and Journalism Fellow. Previously, she was an investigative intern at NBC Bay Area and the inaugural intern for the global investigations team of The Associated Press through a partnership with the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting. Roselyn graduated from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo in 2022 with a bachelor's degree in journalism and minors in Spanish, ethnic studies, and women's and gender studies. She is a proud daughter of Filipino immigrants and was born and raised in Oxnard, California.