Even before there was a Sankofa Cultural Arts and Business Center, there was African Accents.

But come January 2010, there will no longer be an “African Accents.” Until two years ago, the gift shop was located on Chicago Avenue just east of Austin Boulevard in a stand along building. Since relocating across the street inside the center, 5820 W. Chicago, it poses a problem from a taxes stand-point, explained co-owner Malcolm Crawford.

Sankofa is a nonprofit organization and African Accents, a gift shop operated by Crawford and his wife, Stacia, since 2000, is a for-profit business. Because of tax laws, the two entities cannot function under the same roof. The Crawfords were made aware of this legal matter by the Illinois Department of Revenue just a few months ago. They’ve been contemplating their next move ever since. So the couple decided to focus all of their energy on the center and dissolve African Accents.

“We were debating whether or not we should move the gift shop. Then we decided to just concentrate on Sankofa and let the for-profit business go.”

Crawford said that a complete rearranging and reconfiguring of their center will take place next – meaning they’ll scale back greatly on what African Accents was doing. The shop is a part of the larger center complex, which has a banquet hall, conference room, and offices for business owners and community groups. The store has its own entrance.

“Right now, we ship to other places; that will no longer be the case,” said Crawford of the gift shop. “[It] will no longer have a separate entrance; there will be no longer be a Web site.”

There will, however, still be a gift shop inside the center, but it will not provide nearly as much merchandise as before. The gift shop will have a giant sale for Black History Month to try and move as much merchandise as possible. It will close after that for two weeks while the changes are made. When the doors reopen, the main focus will be on the needs of the community.

“We want the center to become more focused on education, students and classes,” Crawford said. “We need a lot more classes related to the arts.”

The Nelson Mandela Hall, the center’s main banquet space, is currently used for various events, but its intended purpose, explained Crawford, is for community needs. A longtime business owner and president of the Austin African American Business Networking Association, comprised of Austin business owners, Crawford admits to being more in tuned with entrepreneurship. But he hopes to use his business to spotlight community issues and events.

“With the loss of African Accents, this is now really a community center,” he said. “It’s not a problem. It’s just a different way of doing things. We now just have to focus on keeping things moving as a non-for-profit organization.”

Finisha is a freelance writer covering Austin’s business community. The Enterprize Zone is a regular feature in Austin Weekly News.

To learn more

  • Call the Sankofa Center: 773-626-4497