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East Harlem Yoga Studio Gets Outpouring of Money to Stay Open

By Jeff Mays | December 5, 2012 10:40am

HARLEM — The owners of an East Harlem Yoga studio say they've received more than $11,000 in donations toward the $52,000 in back rent they need to keep the business open — buying them more time to come up with the rest of the money.

"The community has shown overwhelming support donating a little over $11,000 so far...Words can't express how grateful we are. We are not there yet, but surely closer than we were,"  said Stephanie Pope Caffey, who owns Bikram Yoga-East Harlem with her sister Jennifer Pope.

The 116th Street studio, which has been open since 2008, fell into trouble after Con Ed told the owners they owed $45,000 because of incorrectly calculated bills. The sisters came up with $25,000 to get their lights turned back on this summer while they fought the bill.

However, that put them behind on everything ranging from their rent to their water bill. After a long battle, the landlord obtained an eviction notice. The sisters had some of the money needed to pay their back rent but were about $20,000 short.

Pope Caffey says her lawyers are involved in helping her to negotiate with the building's owner for more time. Representatives for the building's owner declined comment.

She added that she's determined to raise enough money to prevent the studio from becoming the latest in a line of African-American owned Harlem businesses to shut their doors.

Over the last 18 months, Hue-Man Bookstore, bowling alley Harlem Lanes, Nectar Wine Bar, Harlem Vintage, Society Coffee, Sherman's Barbecue, a 60-year-old rib joint that served the Beatles, and Mobay Uptown, a Caribbean soul food restaurant along 125th Street, have closed.

Lenox Lounge owner Alvin Reed has announced the famed jazz lounge will close at year's end.

As Harlem attracts more national chains such as Red Lobster and Whole Foods and rent increases, many expect the trend of longtime businesses closing to get worse.

"I think it's a combination of not seeking funding, fear....and being uninformed," said Sakita Holley, a publicist and editorial director of the Eat in Harlem blog.

"Also, the resources that are supposed to be in the community to help small businesses seem to serve as vanity projects for those leading the organizations," she added.

If the necessary resources were readily available, Holley said "so many black-owned businesses wouldn't be closing in such a short period."

Pope Caffey said she reached out to small business groups in Harlem but was not offered help.
"Several (people) have asked if we have gone to some of the local small business agencies for a loan.  We have, but unfortunately when it is a landlord dispute, they will not touch it," Pope Caffey said. "This is why we chose to seek help from the community."