From bad breaks to boons: D.C.'s Sisterspace plans a comeback and other tales of black survival.

Author:Osborne, Gwendolyn E.
Position:Market buzz

On the evening of July 28, a standing-room only crowd gathered at Sisterspace and Books in Washington, D.C., for a book signing. They were not there to see a hip-hop, artist-turned-writer or a best-selling author of erotica. The group had come to hear Mindy Thompson Fullilove discuss a subject many in the audience knew about first-hand.

Fullilove, professor of clinical psychiatry and public health at Columbia University and author of Root Shock: How Tearing Up City Neighborhoods Hurts America, and What We Can Do About It (One World/Ballantine, June 2004) had come to the store in Washington's historic Cardozo/U Street neighborhood. It is a community Sisterspace's owners Paye Williams and Cassandra Burton say is under siege by developers and others who would destroy it. The bookstore is at the heart of the battle. (See BIBR, September-October 2004, MARKETBUZZ, "We Shall Not Be Moved")

"The fight to save Sisterspace was symbolic and part of a larger struggle to prevent the dismantling of African American communities throughout the country," says Fullilove, who has researched the destruction of 1,600 communities by urban renewal.

There was a certain irony in Fullilove's visit because seven days later, U.S. Marshals carried out an eviction order against Sisterspace and Books. The contents of the store were unceremoniously placed on the sidewalk, and the business's name was removed immediately from the storefront. Supporters quickly helped collect the store's belongings from the street. Later in the day, Williams held a scheduled book signing for Harvard law professor Charles Ogletree at a D.C. law firm.

According to Williams, the eviction followed a battle for five of the seven years Sisterspace has been located in the building at 1515 U Street. Disputes involved rents, repairs and philosophies, and a failed effort to buy the building outright. Williams says it was also a fight against gentrification in the area that is driving black residents and businesses out. The building is owned by a trust that benefits an African American whose brother bad maintained a business in the building, and the trust is suing for back rent, according to The Washington Post. As the dispute continued, rent had been withheld in protest of building repairs not being made and paid into escrow. In May, the D.C. Superior Court said Sisterspace had no legal right to remain in the building because it did not renew the lease when it expired last fall. still, it seemed like an ignoble end...

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