Since 1992, The Body Shop on 125th Street has given away more than $60,000 to community organizations. The Harlem store hasn't turned a profit after seven years, but officials believe that 2000 will be their first profitable year. For many residents, the store represents the best of out-of-town retail stores in Harlem. The shop provides the community with more than just three or four full time jobs, it gives up to 5 percent of its annual sales to local charities.
Exemplary stores like The Body Shop give Harlem residents hope about spending in the" new Harlem renaissance." The impending explosion of retail at the Harlem USA mall makes many residents nervous about whether money will be reinvested in the community. The promised 500 new full-time jobs may not be enough to make believers out of already suspicious shopkeepers.
"I never got any money from the Empowerment Zone and I've been here for more than 25 years," says Record Shack owner Sikhulu Shange. "I should be rewarded for keeping the community together with my store, but instead, outsiders are getting tax breaks that may bring down my store." Shange is referring to the HMV music superstore scheduled to open in Spring 2000 in the Harlem USA mall.
Other complaints from residents revolve around the tax breaks and public money that pour into shops like Broadway Video. The store is owned by NBC's Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels and many are concerned that breaks come too easily to outsiders venturing into Harlem.
"How much money do you think Lorne Michaels really needs for a new business?" asks Lance Moreland, president of Harlem Association for Travel and Tourism. "Do you think we get any help for staying in Harlem and being here for so many years?"
Record Shack owner Shange applied for Empowerment Zone grants on several occasions. He wanted to get $200,000 of working capital to compete with the coming HMV store, but he did not receive any.
Questions of capital and investment money invariably conjure up questions of local income. Despite a jump of $5,000 in per capita annual Harlem income to $23,000, Harlem officials point to the larger issue of joblessness as a hindrance to local growth.
"We had a deficit of 12,000 jobs when this started," according to Jim Capel from Congressman Charles Rangel's office. "You can't reduce that kind of deficit with family owned businesses."
According to the Empowerment Zone, efforts like the Harlem USA mall can create lasting jobs and community revenue to bolster employment rates in Harlem. The stores and jobs serve as a backbone for future community growth and prosperity.
But residents still question the enormous amount of revenue leaving the community. Harlem USA stores got too much help from public money, according to Shange. Also, there is no plan to give money back to the community, like the community store program from The Body Shop.
"We felt we made a commitment to the people of Harlem and we're going to stick by it," says Allister Jackson of The Body Shop. "It's important to build the economy from the inside of a community and most big chains don't give back."
The Body Shop donates 5 percent of sales or 50 percent of net profit back to the community, whichever is greater. The manager of the Harlem Body Shop works with the Harlem Community Board to determine the recipient of the money. The program's goal is to deliver money only to entrepreneurial programs for Harlem youth. Based on the first community store founded in 1989 in Brixton, England, the Harlem shop is only the second community store of more than 1,800 worldwide Body Shop stores.
"Brixton is a largely African-American community in urban England," says Jackson. "It's a challenge, but it's also a real commitment we made to the people." The store gives similar monetary returns to the community, but focuses more on domestic violence and AIDS issues.
"Eighty-percent of our staff are women and almost 80 percent of our customers are women," says Jackson. "We want to help the people that work with us and buy from us."