Places that Matter

Harlem Record Shack (former)

Exterior overview, Elena Martinez
Exterior overview, Elena Martinez
Longtime Harlem record store
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Place Matters Profile

The Harlem Record Shack is a longtime neighborhood asset located along the 125th St. commercial corridor that is threatend with closure.

The Harlem Record Shack has operated from this spot across the the street from the Apollo Theater since 1972. Its first location was a few blocks uptown, at Frederick Douglas Blvd. and 135th St., where it opened in 1968. It is owned and run by Sikhulu Shange, who emigrated to NYC from South Africa in 1964 after visiting with a dance troupe to perform in the World's Fair.

Mr. Shange told us that like music stores in other communities, the Record Shack has various functions:

"There are so many things that this musical outlet has contributed besides just selling music outright. The Record Shack has been, more or less, a place where musicians who come to town could make a whistle stop. Also, the record companies could send their artists up here to break in their records, sign autographs, all those good things. And we have been able to help young people to merchandise their music and other things that they've made. The Record Shack has become an integral part of the Harlem community and beyond. We help to break in music like rap music which, when it started, was not accepted. With new types of music, people come in here and ask us to play it, and it can start to catch on, so the companies will finally decide to carry the music. So I preserve culture in an unprecedented manner.

We sell music which is not popular with the downtown stores. I service Harlem, New York, Brooklyn, Staten Island, Bronx and Queens, and New Jersey, Connecticut and beyond because our store is very unique. You know people make trips just to come and get things that they normally do not find in the big stores because they [the huge chain stores] have no clue as to what it means. And most of the merchandise that we have here is specialty; it is not so much that it is financially viable but we carry it for its cultural value."

The Record Shack's landlord, the United House of Prayer for All People, has not renewed the store's lease and has given Shange until March 31st to vacate the premises. Mr. Shange says the church has not told him why he must leave, but he supposes that it is because real estate has become so valuable in Harlem.

If the Record Shack goes, it will be one more loss on a street that is already losing other cultural assets. Another longtime Harlem record store, Bobby's Happy House, formerly around the corner from the Record Shack, was forced to close in January 2008, after being in business since 1946. Along with other businesses on the block, the store was bought by a realty corporation which plans to put an office building on the site. Even though the Record Shack was just a stone's throw away from Bobby’s Happy House, they were able to co-exist for decades. In fact, Mr. Shange sees the aggregation of small businesses as beneficial to the community:

"We [the record stores] were not competing at all, we complemented each other. What I didn't have I would send them over to Bobby and what he didn’t have he would send them over to me. We had that kind of reality....Whole blocks of Harlem are being sold right out from under the tenants and business owners. The places are packaged and sold in bulk without the participation or involvement of the current tenants--Harlemites. It is very sad, to see that a community is being gentrified, after being ghettoized. The old Harlem which we know is vanishing for us and we need to rescue that by turning around and really resisting this onslaught."


Interview with Sikhulu Shange by Elena Martinez, 4 Feb., 2008

[Posted by Place Matters, Mar. 2008]


The Harlem Record Shack has closed.  The space is now occupied by an optical store. (July 2010)