By Emily Rostek

January 31, 2018, 1:00 pm

 

Gentrification, that continues to plague Brooklyn, takes a toll on small business owner Mohammed Kamara.

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Mohammed Kamara, owner of American Star Hardware, at his store in Crown Heights, Photo: Emily Rostek

Mohammed Kamara, owner of American Star Inc, has served the Crown Heights community for over 20 years. But like many other small businesses throughout Brooklyn and elsewhere, he is at risk of losing his livelihood.

In late 2016, the executor put the building up for sale without the knowledge of Kamara. Now, he may be permanently evicted.

Kamara recalled, “I came to work one morning and my neighbor came up to me and said, ‘Mohammed, have you seen the sign?’ ‘The sign?’ I asked. I looked up and saw a large For Sale sign posted on my store.”

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The Outside of American Star Inc, Photo: Suzi Sadler

After about a year of legal disputes to try and keep his business, Kamara was offered the rights to the selling contracts – but only if he is able to pay taxation fines of $23,400 associated with the property by his upcoming court date on February 13.

“This is the one and only dream I had,” Kamara began, “I went to college for a year and a half, but then the children came. I had to—I wanted to—dedicate myself to their upbringing.” As Kamara spoke, Oprah reruns played on the TV in the background, accompanied by West African tunes.

Kamara, who came from Monrovia, Liberia, in 1982, exemplifies kindness. As Oprah comforts her guests, he does the same. Greeting every customer with a “Happy New Year,” he usually says goodbye with a toothy grin and a “God Bless You.”

“Your customers are like your partners. They help you to withstand a business and help you support your family, so when they come I cherish them,” Kamara said.

“Your customers are like your partners. They help you to withstand a business and help you support your family, so when they come I cherish them,” Kamara said.

He has six children, five of whom live under his roof. He proudly spoke about his children’s achievements and reminisced about where they started. “They all grew up behind these counters,” he motioned to a photo of his twin sons standing behind the same counters Kamara leaned on. “Now, three of my children have college degrees,” he said proudly. He pulled how his daughter’s honor roll certificate from 2005 and placed it on the counter. He grinned.

As evident by the various pamphlets and posters supporting local politicians strewn across the front desk, Kamara loves his community. American flags stick out throughout the store, as do flags from his native country Liberia. “Dreams come true in America. I still believe that,” he said.

Each day, Kamara stands behind a cash register that reads, “The family that prays together stays together” beside a poster that lists 45 Great African-Americans. Clearly, this store is like Kamara’s second home. He stays open late to make sure his store is accessible to everyone, regardless of how late they work. Kamara does not use heat or hot water in his store to keep the cost of the space as low as possible, so in the winter months, he is seen wearing a warm hat and a winter coat.

“I’ve been working 7 days a week for over 10 years.” He added, “I still haven’t been able to go to Conakry, Guinea, to see my mother’s grave.”

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Mohammed Kamara in good spirits at his store, Photo: Emily Rostek

Although Kamara laughs and smiles wide, his potential eviction is taking a serious toll on his wellbeing. “This is affecting me – physically and mentally – I have many sleepless nights,” he said.

Kamara’s problem, the plight of many small business owners in 2018, has caught the attention of independent filmmaker Suzi Sadler. Together, Sadler and Kamara have created a GoFundMe page to help Kamara raise the $23,400 needed to keep his business alive.

“I wanted to do anything I could to help,” Sadler said.

“We breathe the same air, we drink the same water,” Kamara said. “I am pleading with all charities, with the community; I am pleading to good Samaritans to donate what you can. May God bless you.”


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4 Responses

  1. Yvonne

    And him paying the landlord’s fines is no more than a stopgap., It doesn’t prevent the building from being sold, now or in the future, so his business will always be in jeopardy.

    Reply
  2. Tony's Pizza

    Headline! “Guy that doesn’t own his building gets screwed by guy who does own the building.” Where is the gentrification spin? The fact that place has back taxes?

    These “gentrification” headlines are tired. Is there a developer around the corner who is going to knock the premises down and put up some ridiculous condos with a doggy salon? Who knows, who cares. If anything, I’m sure it’s about time that some kind of change comes to this block. A cursory search of other headlines will show you that this corner of Crown Heights North is notorious for shootings and other violent crime. St. Johns is not a shopping strip either – it’s a residential block.

    In fact, maybe this fella could’ve made more money in the past to visit his poor mom’s grave in Guinea if the neighborhood had turned over sooner and you have more folks renovating these properties. I wish every hardware store owner, African or otherwise, could be successful and hold onto their business. However, pointing your finger at the specter of “gentrification” isn’t useful, academic or interesting.

    Reply
  3. Reginald Culver

    The building is being sold by an executor for an estate. How is that gentrification?

    Reply
  4. Jon Barsky

    is anyone editing these Stories? this story has nothing to do with gentrification. While sad for the owner, he didn’t pay his bills

    Reply

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