A Nubian Notion to close doors
Dudley flagship going out of business
For generations of Roxbury residents, A Nubian Notion’s flagship Dudley Square store has been a constant presence. Next year, however, the Abdal-Khallaq family will bring an end to the store’s nearly-50 year reign as an anchor tenant in Roxbury’s commercial hub.
With the ten children of the business’ late founder Malik Abdal-Khalaq all at retirement age and their progeny working in other professions, the family has decided to scale back its operation.
“We’re all aged out,” said Sharif Abdal-Khallaq, who serves as board chairman. “The work that a convenience store requires is beyond our capabilities. We’re leaving this location that we’ve been in since 1968.”
The store and the name began when Houston-born Malik Abdal Khallaq opened a barber shop at the corner of Humboldt Avenue and Munroe Street, selling imports from Egypt and Sudan — silver jewelry, incense, African-themed arts and crafts.
“He would go to Egypt and Sudan with empty suitcases and come back with things,” Sharif Abdal-Khallaq said. “He put a showcase inside his barber shop. He’d take the proceeds from the sales and fly back. He kept adding showcases.”
Born in Houston, Abdal-Khallaq worked as a barber when he joined the Nation of Islam there in the 1950s. As a successful business man in Houston, Abdal-Khallaq was able to support his wife and ten children. But like many blacks living in the South at that time, he decided to head north, seeking better opportunities and living conditions.
He opened the Humboldt Avenue barbershop in 1962, then added the Dudley Square convenience store and boutique in 1968. The Abdal-Khallaq family’s vision of promoting Afro-centric art and style was well-timed. The opening of the Dudley store, in the midst of the “Black is Beautiful” movement of the late ’60s and early ’70s provided Boston area blacks with the afro picks and dashikis that were staples of a conscious brother or sister’s wardrobe.
During its heyday, Malik Abdal-Khallaq’s business had stores in Central Square in Cambridge, Mattapan and at 29 Newbury Street.
Malik Abdal-Khallaq’s sons and daughters helped grow the business and take it in different directions.
“Everybody was involved in some form, shape or fashion,” said Jumadaa Abdal-Khallaq, who still works various jobs in the store.
In many ways, Jake Abdal-Khallaq has had the most involvement, starting work in Dudley Square when he was discharged from the U.S. Air Force in 1970. His 46 years in that location have given him somewhat of a unique vantage point on the Roxbury community.
“You see a little bit of everything,” he said. “People with two or three degrees and people who have spent much of their lives in prison. You learn a lot about people. You spend a lot of time listening and observing.”
While all of Malik Abdal-Khallaq’s sons and daughters had roles in the operation – from managing stores, to buying merchandise and sewing dashikis – many pursued other interests.
Sharif Abdal Khallaq spent the better part of ten years in Los Angeles in the 1960s, working in research and development for the then-Northrop Corporation.
“I decided to try the corporate world,” Abdal-Khallaq said. “But after my experiences with racism out there, I decided I would never work for a white man again. I decided that if my father could raise ten kids on a barber’s salary, I could survive.”
Eventually, Sharif Abdal-Kallaq opened his own real estate firm, after several years of buying, fixing up and selling buildings in Roxbury. SAAK Real Estate opened in 1978 at a time when black real estate developers such as John Cruz, Ken Guscott and Richard Taylor were expanding their businesses in the Roxbury area. Their growing businesses were a boon for Abdal-Khallaq.
But as his business grew, A Nubian Notion did not. Part of the challenge was that while Malik Abdal-Khallaq’s ten children were involved with the business, his grandchildren went on to other careers.
“They’re educators, they’re lawyers, they’re MDs,” said Sharif Abdal-Khallaq.” They’re all professionals. We succeeded in advancing our children to the next level. None of them would leave their jobs to come down here and work.”
By the 1990s, there were two locations — the flagship convenience store in Dudley Square and its gift shop annex, and a smaller store in the Orange Line Ruggles Station.
Malik Abdal-Khallaq passed away in 1996. In 2013 the Ruggles Station location closed. With the renovation of the Dartmouth Hotel building that housed the Dudley Square stores, the gift shop and convenience store merged into one location.
In the first quarter of 2017, the convenience store will close. Sharif Abdal-Khallaq says he will open the gift shop in a new location with its familiar stock of silver bangles, essential oils and incense.
“We’re not going out of business,” he said. “We’re going out of the convenience business.”