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Faces/Places in the Hood#2

November 18, 2008





What’s your name and business name?  My names is Guy, my business is Jelani Lounge

How long have you been in the neighborhood? 18 years

How many businesses have you established in the area over the  years?  Over nine businesses on Fulton street…My first one was ‘Guytina’s Place fish, chips & soul food’, from food I said let me try a little bit of hair then opened ‘Sister, Sister hair & nail salon’, from there I said let me try some ice cream then opened an ice cream parlor ‘Guytina’s Flavors’ and that was doing good but the only thing that was lacking was on fulton street people started complaining “why do I have to walk 6-7 blocks just for wings & soul food, I live all the way on the other end of Fulton street”…so what I decided to do, I said instead you know something I’m going to help ya’ll out so you won’t have to walk all the way down here late at night. It was still kinda wild in the streets then with drugs, shootings and robberies so I said you know something I don’t want ya’ll walking between that if you don’t have to, I then opened ‘Guytina’s Place too’ on Putnam and Grand…basically I took care of both parts of Clinton Hill, the beginning part of Clinton Hill and the ending part.

You were actually one of the first new businesses on that end… Exactly, no one really wanted to go down there, you know back then between the drugs and everything they called that building on the corner of Grand and Putnam “The Carter” after the building in the movie “New Jack City” so a lot of people stayed away from that area.

What do you like most about the neighborhood? The thing I like most about the neighborhood is the people. The people stand out and they’ll remember you from back then until now…it’s not like I’m not going to say hello because the common way these days of people in different neighborhoods, they’re scared to say hello, be polite or you know just give you that nod. In Clinton Hill people look at you and say hi…you don’t have to like em’ or have to know em’ but everybody’s still speaks and acknowledges each other…you might run into them at the cleaners or the grocery store, you don’t know them by name but you still give that little nod like “Hi, how are you doing?”…that reminds me to go back to something. My first restaurant before I even opened it up, there was an oldtimer named Dave who used to own the video shop on fulton street, he said you now something Guy I don’t think you should do it because alot of people tried and alot of people failed. And when he told me that I was like this is an oldtimer, should I or should I not listen to him? But me, I like to take chances and I did it anyway! Two years later after I’d been open and the business was making money, he came up to me, pulled me to the side and said you know something Guy, I want to apologize for discouraging you to open your business and pursuing your dream. I see your making it, keep doing what your doing, I gained even more respect for him that day.

The first business was named ‘Guytina’s Place’, the second ‘Guytina’s Place too’, tell me what was behind the names… I had a daughter who was premature and passed. She only lived for 8 hours and looked just like me so I wanted to carry on her name as though she’s living.

What do you like least about the neighborhood?  There’s nothing I like least about the neighborhood, I just have feelings about the changes thats going on in the neighborhood…my thing is, if you move into a neighborhood…it’s like I’ve been on Fulton street 18 years so I’ve seen it all, I’ve seen the changes, I’ve seen the bad parts, the good parts but I’ve always seen the light at the end of the tunnel. So for a new person to come to the neighborhood and tell me well this is the way things are gonna go…I mean it’s things like that I hate the most.

What changes would you like to see in the neighborhood? I want everybody to work together, we live together so one hand should wash the other. Let’s make the best of the neighborhood, acknowledge your neighbors, let’s make this a happy place to live.

Have you ever felt unsafe? I’ve never felt unsafe…since you bought that up I have a good thing to say…You walk up and down Fulton street from Vanderbilt to Classon ave., that’s basically the span of Clinton Hill, you’ll notice alot of storefronts with no roll-down gates. I was first business on Fulton street with no roll-down gates. Guytina’s Place was the first with no roll-down gates, people told me back then when it was wild that I’d have alot of burglaries. “Guy you’re crazy, people will break into your spot” and you know what I told the person who told me that? Well if they break into my spot atleast I know one thing…They’re gonna have a good meal at the at of the night cause all they’re going to get outta here is food! From that point on and I was going on ten years owning ‘Guytina’s Place’, no one ever broke into my spot and it became like a domino effect. More businesses were like you know what, we don’t need gates. I mean it’s like this, you go to Madison ave., there’s a dress in the window worth thousands of dollars and nobody messes with it. So if all I’m selling is food and someone wants to break in my spot for a chicken wing and wants it that bad…then guess what?! They probably need it!!

What are your fondest memories of the ‘hood?  Seeing the oldtimers just sitting at the corner talking. And when I say sitting there talking, alot of the oldtimers back then sitting there weren’t even drinking, they were just congregrating, talking and joking. Those are the same guys who when it got cold in the winter would come in the restaurant to keep me company and play checkers. They would try to school and teach the young guy a thing or two and we’d have a ball.

How do you feel about the gentrification of the neighborhood? I love it! A lot of people might not, but I love it. It basically brings change and we’re all the same people…We work, we want whats best for our families, we breath the same air, drink the same water and when we die we’re going to the same place…either up the escalator or down the escalator. So we gotta live among each other and we just gotta love each other.

Tell me how you feel about the coverage of the area, media or otherwise… They don’t give the original people enough airplay…Blog play, media play, they don’t give it to us. We were here through the struggle and they forget about that. If you go to alot of blogs about the neighborhood, they give focus to newer establishments but they really don’t talk about the people who have been here and suffered. The people who put their necks on the line to establish their business, they forget about these people. Those are the people who are the pioneers of Fulton street. Jelani Lounge has been here two and a half years and I’ve never gotten a blast from a blog or any media outlet or any neighborhood paper. I’ve helped bring businesses to Fulton, brought consumers to Fulton street so I’ve bought money into the neighborhood. And some of the newer businesses in the neighborhood, the people who own them don’t live in the neighborhood like I do…I live in the neighborhood, I spend my money in the neighborhood, any given day you can see me on Fulton, going to the cleaners or getting a beef patty. I go to the same barbershop on Fulton street…As the saying goes I keep it ‘hood.

Tell me something about the neighborhood you think is overlooked… I think the middle aged people are over looked in the neighborhood…Let me switch it up a bit, you know the saying don’t judge a book by it’s cover, well people call me all the time and ask me about the dress code and I tell them we don’t have one at Jelani Lounge come as you are…not everyone works in a suit and tie and even those that do, after 8 hours they may just want to come out relaxed. So when you see people in the street don’t be so quick to judge…alot of times you may see a group of guys, they may just be sitting in the park on Waverly and Greene and people assume that they’re hustling drugs but these guys have a 9-5. They may just want to come there to just exhaust after a hard days work, tell the guys how their day was, they may have saw Arod that day in the city, a gorgeous woman…whatever. Guys have families they can’t always bring the crew of fellas into their home so they do the next best thing. They meet up in the neighborhood take a seat on the park bench, send the kids to the playground and then just let it go. You go to other places and see people sitting together, people don’t go look at those old ladies they must be hustling drugs because all their doing is sitting and watching their kids play. A lot of younger guys are doing the same things. I know there’s a belief that when you see a group of black guys talking they must be hustling drugs but let me bust everyone’s bubble, it’s not true! I mean you could look at me sometimes, you’d never think I have these establishments…you just gotta learn to respect each other and not give everyone a label.

Any ending thoughts?  Clinton Hill is a beautiful place…a beautiful place to live, to raise a family, to eat, shop,’s just beautiful. I think with the people moving in, they could help us alot. They can show us things we haven’t seen from where they came from…we should all be more inclusive with each other. I remember we used to play flag football, softball etc., have the different blocks play each other but we don’t do it anymore because alot of people have moved away because they couldn’t afford to stay here  but if we get to know each other, these are the kind of things we could do in the neighborhood together.


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