A spirit of renewal rises out of 125th Street in Manhattan, the
bustling crosstown artery of America's black capital. A movement is
under way here to revive the Harlem of another era, when the
district was known for its jazz greats and vibrant stores - and
it's coming with the help of neighboring Columbia University.
"We want people to feel about the Apollo the way they felt about
it in the1940s: as a vibrant, throbbing, active, exciting,
economically viable place to go," says Wayne Neale, development
director for the Apollo Theater Foundation, which is promoting the
Working with Mr. Neale is Ileana Scheytt, an MBA candidate at
Columbia, who is researching direct-mail companies to design a
fund-raising strategy for the black theater.
The pair was brought together under an innovative inner-city
consulting class at Columbia's business school, which sends
students to work with big-name professionals in neighboring Harlem.
Since the course's inception two years ago, the students have
conducted market surveys, designed cost structures, and made
business plans for some of Harlem's best-established institutions,
from the Dance Theater of Harlem to Madame Alexander Company whose
famous collectible dolls retail at FAO Schwarz.
Following Columbia University's example, top business schools
are increasingly sending students to do field work in neighboring
inner cities. Most schools see it as a relationship they can no
longer afford to ignore: Students get hands-on experience, and
minority and mom-and-pop businesses get access to resources long
Lending a helping hand
"You're seeing an increased level of civic interest in
inner-city communities by students in general, but this is not
something altruistic," says Eric Von Hendrix, who heads the
community small-business development unit at GE Capital in
For Columbia business students, Harlem is a rich laboratory.
Over the past two years, it has attracted big retailers such as
Duane Reade Drugs and Blockbuster, and Walt Disney has agreed to
anchor a $56 million entertainment center on 125th Street.
But above the colorful strand of hair salons, shoe stores, and
mom-and-pop storefronts lining 125th Street, many facades remain
boarded up, stark symbols of what is yet to be done to revive
With that in mind, the Columbia students have focused on anchor
businesses and institutions, helping them take advantage of this
renewal. "The biggest problem for small businesses is to understand
what it is they're doing," says Howard Dabney, chief lending
officer at Carver Federal Savings Bank, the largest
African-American bank in the country, and the only bank
headquartered in Harlem.
"They don't keep the best of records that allows for an
evaluation of what their needs are," adds Columbia's Ms. Scheytt, a
former project manager at Hewlett-Packard in Germany. …