GoFundMe Set Up For Employees As Marc Lamont Hill’s Philly Bookstore Closes Amid COVID-19

Written by Ann Brown
A GoFundMe has been set up for employees at Marc Lamont Hill’s Philadelphia bookstore, Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee & Books. The store closed amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo Via WikiCommons

TV commentator and university professor Marc Lamont Hill owns Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee & Books, a bookstore in Philadelphia. Like many other Black-owned businesses facing struggles during the coronavirus pandemic, Uncle Bobbie’s is looking for a way to help employees make ends meet.

The bookstore has launched a digital GoFundMe campaign to support its staff financially through the pandemic.

“We’d be OK with closing and just opening (when this is over) but my employees won’t,” Uncle Bobbie’s owner and cultural commentator,  Lamont Hill, told The Grio.

“The whole goal of the GoFundMe is to support the employees. I don’t want to function like a corporation. I want to function in a way the employees could count on me and their job.”

The bookstore, whose motto is “Cool People. Dope Books. Great Coffee,” has temporarily shut down.

The GoFundMe campaign, #WeStillHere, started by one of the staff members, aims to keep the business financed during the shutdown.

“We started to see fewer people come in. We had events where we expected 400 people and we got 150. It spiked very quickly. It went from alternative plans to we ‘closed closed.’ The city closed us we didn’t have the opportunity to make a different choice although we would have closed on our own. Things escalated so quickly,” said Hill. 

The pandemic is expected to hit Black businesses hard. According to a survey from the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts (BECMA), 90 percent of respondents are facing a negative financial impact due to the crisis.

“Black businesses were already in a precarious position prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the report states. “The current crisis has devastated an already hampered business community.” 

The report found that 68 percent of respondents felt there would be a significant or severe financial impact on their businesses and a majority said that their businesses couldn’t survive more than six months. More than 47 percent said they could not last more than three months. And 13 percent of respondents said their businesses wouldn’t survive at all.

It will most likely will take Black businesses longer to bounce back, BECMA Director Segun Idowu told the Bay State Banner.

“The Black business community is in dire straits right now,” Idowu said.

Hill seems to agree. “Oftentimes Black business (are) operating with fewer resources, smaller margins, and a much more niche customer base. When you own a business and suddenly half the people stop coming in, now you have a payroll question,” noted Hill, who is a professor of Media Studies and Urban Education at Temple University.

“Black folk are disproportionately vulnerable economically. Our customers are vulnerable so they can’t support us the same way. When things like corona come unpredicted without proper resources, you can end up in a vicious cycle of debt.”

Listen to GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin | Episode 70: Jamarlin Martin Jamarlin goes solo to discuss the COVID-19 crisis. He talks about the failed leadership of Trump, Andrew Cuomo, CDC Director Robert Redfield, Surgeon General Jerome Adams, and New York Mayor de Blasio.

This is one reason Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee & Books turned to the community for financial assistance as their doors remain close. Team member Justin Moore decided to launch the GoFundMe fundraising campaign.

More than 380 people have donated to Uncle Bobbie’s campaign from all over the country. 

The GoFundMe campaign for Uncle Bobbie’s Books and Coffee has raised nearly $23,000 of the $50,000 goal. 

“The support from the community and around the country has been overwhelming. I couldn’t be more humbled and grateful and overjoyed by the support from people who come to Uncle Bobbie’s every day and from people who have never been to Philadelphia….for me that means everything,” Hill said.