Oak Park store relocates, hopes business will pick up

New place, more space

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The unnamed man walking into Afri-Ware's new Ridgeland and Madison location was dressed in his Sunday best.

Perhaps coming from or on his way to church this particular afternoon, the polite, elderly gentleman asked if this was the same store that was over in "the other place."

"Yes," replied Nzingha Nommo, Afri-Ware's owner.

She invited the gentleman in but he said that was all right. This is the fourth location for the 17-year-old clothing, book and novelty store, which Nommo first opened in Broadview. Afri-Ware moved from its most recent space on 266 Lake St. just last week. She was there for five years but business slowed. The new location, 440 S. Ridgeland, is just north of Madison Street. Restaurants, stores and other shops are in the vicinity, and Percy Julian Middle School is nearby just up the street on Ridgeland. Nommo is succinct in explaining why she moved.

"Location, location, location — and did I say, location?" she said, laughing.

It's a much better spot for Afri-Ware, Nommo added. The previous location at Lake and Cuyler had larger floor space, but walk-in traffic — a major source of revenue — was virtually non-existent. The store, she estimates, lost about 30 percent of its business on Lake and Cuyler, and during the Christmas season, roughly 50 percent.

Business was better at Lake and Forest in the Downtown Oak Park business district, Afri-Ware's second home until 2006, when the property was sold by the village to developers. Foot traffic was steady, Nommo recalled, but it dropped off considerably after moving to Lake and Cuyler.

"We are really excited about this new space. It was built to suit," she said. "We have all the space in the world. No parking issues. The idea was that our loyal clientele would be all that we needed to make it work. Lesson learned. There is no other more important factor than new blood."

Nommo is optimistic that walk-in traffic and overall sales will increase. She didn't want to have to close the store temporarily before relocating. Her paid staff, along with some dedicated volunteers, helped the move go smoothly. The storefront location includes a basement that Nommo hopes to turn into an art gallery. A back room on the main level currently houses storage items, but she's planning to use that space as a performance area.

Over the years, Afri-Ware has hosted book signings as well as fairs for area entrepreneurs to sell their wares. But Nommo sometimes had to shut down her own store's operations in order to accommodate events. She said she won't have to do that now with her extra space.

She and her staff are planning a three-day grand opening from Friday, June 17 to Sunday, June 19. The new store will be open five days a week instead of three at the previous location. Nommo also anticipates staying in this space for an extended time.

"I think this one's a keeper," she said.

Reader Comments

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Frank Charles Dodson from Kansas Cityt  

Posted: September 11th, 2014 4:57 PM

Afriware Booksellers in Maywood, Illinois just outside of Chicago is a marvelous Book shop for adding to your literary collection on African American culture, both educational and entertaining. Nzingha Nommo assuredly is an excellent guide to whatever your genre of reading material may happen to be.

Frank Charles Dodson from Kansas City, Missouri  

Posted: August 22nd, 2014 11:50 PM

Even more recent is Nzingha's Afriware shop at: 1701 South 1st Avenue, Maywood, Il 60153, it is a marvelous location, and is very well stocked with quality literture which should apeal to everyone, whether you are reading for education, or entertainment. Her shop is a five star establishment. Visit it regularily.

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: June 12th, 2011 2:37 PM

The village entered into a public-private redevlopment agreement with Sertus, which includes the site at the NE corner of Lake & Forest. While the commercial property portion was purchased by Sertus, it is part of the overall project, which includes a new village parking garage and a $500,000 subsidy for a hotel to be located on this site. The village also approved demolition permits for these commercial buildings, prior to Sertus having financing, resulting in the current blighted corner.

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: June 12th, 2011 1:53 PM


Jim Coughlin  

Posted: June 11th, 2011 6:12 PM

President Pope, Rather than me report back to this forum details of a conversation; would you just offer a brief statement on the status of Lake and Forest? Thank you.

David Pope from Oak Park  

Posted: June 11th, 2011 10:06 AM

Hi Jim. I'm out a good part of today but am happy to talk with you about this. Give me a call on my cell at (312) 498-6001. Kind regards, David.

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: June 10th, 2011 11:13 PM

Thanks for not asking if I'm tweaking on meth.


Posted: June 10th, 2011 11:04 PM

Jim, you've drank too much coffee my friend. Time for some sleep. Youve been posting on WJ all day long. GN

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: June 10th, 2011 10:56 PM

President Pope, would you please take a moment and let the community know that the Lake & Forest project is a "Win-Win" for the Village? I recall you saying that after the agreement was signed with Sertus. I know the project is currently in limbo but there is no way ths location will become another Stankus Hole. I offer best wishes too the the owners of Ari-Ware. A cool place!

David Pope from Oak Park  

Posted: June 10th, 2011 10:31 PM

For the writer & editors (and readers) of this piece: the statement "when the property was sold by the village to developers" is incorrect. The Village never owned the building in which Afriware was located, nor the property nor any building directly at the NE corner of the Lake/Forest intersection(e.g. Certified, the Original House of Pancakes, etc.). Unfortunately, WJ (and some commenters on these pages) consistently get this wrong. Congratulations and Best of luck to Ms. Nommo & Afriware.


Posted: June 8th, 2011 6:39 PM

Very Cool, and best wishes to the owner! Glad to see they'll be open more days, too! At their original Lake location, I knew people from all over the city who would go to Afri-Ware for the various events. That's actually how I found out about this place. It's great that she's been able to maintain her business out here for so long!

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