By Grace Guy
September 27, 2010
In today’s society, where there is a Wal-Mart every few miles whose automatic doors effortlessly glide open to reveal a world of endless possibilities from food to furniture, how are the local independent businesses supposed to survive? Azuka Nzegwu, a local entrepreneur and the manager of Africa House in Endicott, New York has discovered an answer; you must become part of the community. Azuka grew up in the Binghamton area and after graduate school returned to Endicott with a vision to enrich the local community by bringing art and culture that were not typically available in the area. She is originally from Nigeria and wanted to share her culture with the community by raising awareness of Africa and the music, art, and customs that spread throughout the world as a result of the African Diaspora.
Africa House sells unique, handmade jewelry, clothing, artwork, furniture, and even chess sets; but Azuka developed Africa House to be more than simply a store, she ensures that the people who enter will leave with a greater knowledge of Africa than they had before. “Our philosophy is to show people the true essence of Africa through arts and culture,” said Azuka. “I want people to feel like I am inviting them into my home when they enter.” She accomplishes this by making Africa House a venue for people to connect with each other through art. Azuka organizes exhibitions for artists to showcase their work in a unique and educational environment. Currently, she is coordinating a reading series for local artists to read their work in an interactive environment where they can discuss the writing process with members of the community.
Azuka plans and manages all the events, while simultaneously running the store. Since Africa House is not your typical store, the planning necessary to keep everything running smoothly is different. Azuka explains how “All the items are handmade, so we do not have a stock room in the back where I can just go to restock the shelves, instead everything has to be ordered ahead of time.” She has to gauge what people want and respond accordingly to keep the customers interested and satisfied.
Operating a business is a lot of work, especially when you are trying to create a unique establishment that engages the customers. People walk into a store and see the end result; they usually do not think about all the planning and time that goes into developing a business and keeping it running. Azuka must take care of anything that needs fixing, while brainstorming ideas for new programs and then implementing the programs that will diversify the business. “I want people to leave here informed and refreshed, I want them to get in touch with their own sensibility by calming their spirits through art,” explained Azuka.
Azuka is satisfied with the progress that Africa House has made since it opened in October 2007. She is especially proud of the fact that since they began selling products three years ago there has not been a single return. “This shows that we sell solid products,” said Azuka, “we work with different artists to get unique things that people can’t find in other stores.” Africa House demonstrates how a business can benefit from forming a mutual partnership with the community, where transactions mean more than just making a profit.
Azuka has optimistic goals for the future of Africa House, with the aspiration of becoming a global company. She wants Africa House to be an institution for arts and culture that is available to people all over world. By utilizing the opportunities available on the internet, she believes that Africa House will be able to accomplish this goal. “We already have artists from as far as China and India who have seen our website and want to know how they can show their artwork,” said Azuka. “We open space to artists and work with like-minded people regardless of their race.” Africa House is continuously making progress, and even has the ex-president of Ghana as one of the board members.