Sister’s Community Hardware, located at 990 Fulton Street between Washington and Waverly Avenues since 2002, attracts the attention of pedestrians and motorists during the day or night. The store’s front is all glass. By day, an artist’s rendition of a giant globe encircled by children of diverse ethnicities holding hands is easily visible. At night, decorative exterior lights exposes the name of the store carved in a wooden plaque as well as the globe. If the name Sister’s Hardware didn’t attract attention, the gateless artistic glass window with a view of the merchandise inside certainly would.
Unity as in Partnership
Maulana Karenga’s first Kwanzaa Principle is Umoja/Unity and evidence continues to mount that until we, African-Americans, heal our relationships with each other, we will not attain the remaining principles. Sister’s Community Hardware is a partnership between Atchutda Bakr and Robert Bridges. When asked what he felt the necessary ingredients were for a successful partnership, he answered “1. Common view of the world; 2. Common value system; 3. Common interests; and 4. Common aspirations”.
Stating that he and Atchutda shared those in common and their meetings were geared towards “How to get things done, not haggling about what.” Bob agreed that the same principles apply in successful relationships period and certainly apply for business.
A common concern to portray positive perceptions resulted in the decision not to use gates, making a statement against the stereotype about the Black community and crime. “We’ve been here eight years with no incidents.” Since men are usually connected to hardware, they thought Why not a Sister’s Hardware Store and .Why not a Black Sister’s Hardware Store? Hanging on the walls are 1 « X 2 « ft. photographs of Ida B. Wells, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer and Septima Clark.
Atchutda Bakr was born in Bedford-Stuyvesant, attended P.S. 93, JHS 258 and Wingate High School, the oldest of four daughters born to Robert and Marjorie Henderson. There is evidence that Atchutda exhibited strong managerial skills at an early age since her mother entrusted her with the care of her younger siblings. Atchutda has two children – Tracy Benjamin, an attorney living in Maryland and practicing government transactions and litigations and Ali Henderson, Brooklyn, who’s a member of the store’s team. When five-year-old Brian, her only grandchild. comes to town, Atchutda invites youngsters for playdates and becomes the chef for the occasions.
In 1975, Atchutda joined the EAST Organization, working in the headmaster’s office. She was transferred to the Uhuru Food Co-op where she worked until she left to manage Jitu Weusi’s campaign for City Council in 1985 and became active in the Black United Front. She handled field operations in the campaigns of Roger Green, Stan Kinard, Bob Law, Job Mashariki, Al Sharpton and Dennis Rivera’s campaign for President of the 1199 Union. In 1989, she ran for City Council against Enoch Williams, garnering 49 percent of the vote. She worked for 1199 as coordinator of a Home Mortgage Program, designed a Homeowner Education program that aided 1,000 people in purchasing homes.
Robert “Bob” Bridges joined the newly formed Black United Front (BUF) and became a member of its Economic Development Committee along with Mel Corbett and Mark Hinckson. It was here that Atchutda and Bob met. As a BUF project from 1983 to 1985, they operated “Our Heroes” at Uhuru Food Co-op, 1107 Fulton St., a sandwich shop selling heroes with names such as Marcus Garvey, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Ella Baker, Jesse Jackson, Martin L. King and Sojourner Truth priced at $2.50 to $3.75 with a Reaganomics Special selling for 75 cents.
In 1985, Bob, Mel and Atchutda formed the New Horizon Management and Development Company, managing 30 buildings in Fort Greene and Clinton Hill. They purchased seven buildings and sold most of them. The company dissolved in 1990. Bob and Mel opened Brother’s Community Hardware Store on Myrtle Avenue in 1989. As Brother’s was closing in 2001, Atchutda was looking for a partner. Having done an internship at Pratt in Community Development – Regional & City Planning, she said a Pratt Area Community Council survey had determined that the community needed a drugstore, hardware store, and book store. “I wasn’t a pharmacist, wasn’t really up to a book store so Hardware was my choice.” So the partnership for “Sister’s” was formed.
Atchutda says her biggest challenge at Sister’s has been learning over 5,000 different products that the store carries while her greatest reward is being able to employ locals. The workers are trained to treat all customers with decency whether they’re a homeless person buying tape or a well-dressed rich individual. She also says a neat, organized store leads to good customer service.
I often compare the customer service at Sister’s to that at Trader Joe’s. Bob, Ali, Richard, Aaron, Fallou and Mohammed make customers feel valued. Their energy and availability is rare.