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Rodney Hughes, 50Current Owner, Perfumer
Lives with: Desmond Prince, his partner.
Moved from: Fort Greene
I started coming to this neighborhood because I had started coming to Akwaaba Mansion. At the time, Akwaaba the restaurant was a destination. We would do brunch there on Sundays after church. And so I was starting to get an idea: Okay, so this is Bed-Stuy.
Desmond had been talking about early retirement. At that point, I’d been working in fashion for a number of years, and I was trying to figure out ways not to work harder but smarter. And so we jumped into the real-estate thing. At that time, they were selling three or four buildings at a time — people were trying to get rid of stuff. Desmond ended up buying a building over on Lincoln Place. And then we bought another building on Park Place in Crown Heights and got into the rental game. We could see the future and what kind of money we could make. I ended up buying this place next door in 2005. Started renting it out.
In 2007, we opened a hardware store at 302 Malcolm X Boulevard. It was an existing business that we bought — Val’s Hardware Store. The owner came to Desmond and said, “I’m selling the hardware store. Would you like to buy it?”
I didn’t know if I wanted to do it. And Desmond said, “We can do it — we’ve been renovating houses for seven years now.” But we had never run a retail business. We finally decided if we’re going to do a hardware store, it has to be a sexy hardware store. We tried to bring in the best home and body products mixed with hardware and other stuff that people needed in this community. We decided we would do all green cleaning products. We did that for about two years, and we expanded to a larger store at 307 Malcolm X Boulevard and called it Oz Hardware and Home.
At that point, we thought, We’re going to be working here every day, so we need to have a place that serves the kind of food that we want to eat. Two years later, we opened Liquid Oz. We had people saying, “This looks like it should be in the city.” But, no, it should be here, because people like us are living here: Young professional people are coming here. We were showing people that this kind of business can exist in this environment. We were at the top end of the curve for that type of thing. Desmond would be in the hardware store, and I ran the café. I served as treasurer for the Malcolm X Merchants Association—we just tried to be part of this incubator to start gentrification from an “in” perspective and not have people come from “out.” The only thing about being ahead of the curve is that you’re ahead of the curve. We sold those businesses a couple of years ago. We were just tired.
I said, we need to have a simpler life. I told Desmond I could wait until 2017 to put the house next door on the market, but the spirit is telling me to move for 2015. We met Hilary; she came to see the house and loved the house. And really, it was a perfect fit. Hilary was pregnant; she was having the baby soon. And she is a jazz singer, and, you know, art and artists appeal to us. I think it’s important to have neighbors that you like and that you feel would care for a house as much as you cared for it. ’Cause you have to live next door to them. And we’re not going anywhere.