SoHa? Harlem bristles at neighborhood nickname

Harlem_Neighborhood_Name_51506 People stroll down the sidewalk along Malcolm X Boulevard, Monday, June 26, 2017, in New York, where residents are upset about a realtor's proposed neighborhood name change from southern Harlem to SoHa. Many residents say the name change devalues the area's rich political and cultural history.
Harlem_Neighborhood_Name_52761 A sign on a public school in southern Harlem expresses the neighborhood's sentiment, Monday, June 26, 2017, in New York. Many longtime area residents and political representatives are alarmed by a local realtor who is selling the neighborhood to new residents under the name os SoHa, for southern Harlem. They claim the area is too rich in history and culture to be renamed.
Harlem_Neighborhood_Name_11529 A woman walks past Victor's Barber Shop on Malcolm X Boulevard in southern Harlem, Monday, June 26, 2017, in New York. The barber shop is owned by longtime Harlem resident Maurice Robinson who sells bargain hot dogs, hamburgers, fries and beverages from a popular food cart across the sidewalk. Residents are up in arms over a local realtor's renaming of the neighborhood to SoHa, for southern Harlem, as a marketing tool. "For better or for worse, Harlem is Harlem," said 12-year Harlem resident Maria Quesada.
Harlem_Neighborhood_Name_18589 A man checks his cell phone as he rests on a stoop in front of Harlem Lofts in southern Harlem, where townhouses ranging from $2 to $4 million are advertised, Monday, June 26, 2017, in New York. Residents of the historic neighborhood are upset by another realtor's renaming of southern Harlem to SoHa. The name refers to the southern part of Harlem where a Whole Foods opens next month, and trendy bars, restaurants and coffee houses are sprouting up as real estate prices soar, pricing out longtime residents.
Harlem_Neighborhood_Name_73508 A passerby glances in the window as friends chat at Harlem Coffee Company, a six-month-old business located on Malcolm X Boulevard in southern Harlem, Monday, June 26, 2017, in New York. Some local realtors, business owners and restaurants have renamed the neighborhood SoHa, as in southern Harlem, but longtime residents are upset about the name change, which they feel demeans the area's rich politcal and cultural history.
Harlem_Neighborhood_Name_24692 Maurice Robinson, left, takes orders from behind the grill of his sidewalk cart outside the barber shop he also owns in southern Harlem, Monday, June 26, 2017, just north of Central Park in New York. Robinson's cart draws a constant line of hungry patrons, and patrons say he's a neighborhood institution, known not just for his bargain hot dogs, burgers and fries, but his friendly demeanor too. Many longtime Harlem residents like Robinson were upset when a local realtor renamed the area SoHa. They claim Harlem is too rich in history and culture to be renamed.
Harlem_Neighborhood_Name_26669 Maurice Robinson serves customers at his popular food cart which draws a steady line of hungry patrons seeking bargain hot dogs, hamburgers, fries and beverages along Malcolm X Boulevard in southern Harlem, Monday, June 26, 2017, in New York. Robinson, who says he has been serving up his fare for 37 years, also owns the barber shop in front of his cart. A trendy coffee shop, Harlem Coffee Company, opened up next door about six months ago.
Harlem_Neighborhood_Name_50168 A patron gathers up his belongings after ordering from Mo's Burgers in southern Harlem as proprietor Maurice Robinson, left, prepares orders at the grill in his sidewalk food cart on Malcolm X Boulevard, Monday, June 26, 2017, in New York. Robinson has been in Harlem for 37 years. Longtime residents like Robinson are upset after learning a local realtor renamed the neighborhood just north of Central Park SoHa, instead of just Harlem. "For better or for worse Harlem is Harlem," said Maria Quesada, a 12-year Harlem resident.
Harlem_Neighborhood_Name_36951 Elliott Prasse-Freeman, left, carries his daughter Suriya, 9-months, on his belly as he talks to longtime Harlem resident Norman Crawley, who asked Prassee-Freeman for money as he passed on Malcolm X Boulevard in southern Harlem, Monday, June 26, 2017, in New York. Prassee-Freeman is relatively new to the neighborhood, having moved from Manhattan's upper East side in 2013. But he said he and his wife make an effort to become members of the community, as in this case, by talking to longtime residents. Many Harlemites complain their new, predominantly white neighbors don't understand the concept of community, which they say contributes to maintaining the area's rich cultural and historic roots. Complaints from long-time residents about the area's gentrification have become more audible recently after a local realtor renamed the area "SoHa," for southern Harlem, instead of just Harlem.
Harlem_Neighborhood_Name_91259 Martin Luther King Jr., left, and Malcolm X, right, both key figures in Harlem's political and racial history, are portrayed on the side of a Halal food truck as a worker who identified himself as only Mahmoud works inside on 125th street in Harlem, Monday, June 26, 2017, in New York. Area residents are upset about a local realtor's name change for the neighborhood encompassing 110th street to 125th street from South Harlem to SoHa. They say the name change devalues the area's rich cultural and political history.
Harlem_Neighborhood_Name_84004 A waiter takes an order for patrons at Lido Harlem on Frederick Douglass Boulevard along Restaurant Row in southern Harlem, Monday, June 26, 2017, in New York. Lido's executive chef is James Beard Award-winning author Serena Bass, caterer to the glitterati. Bass's clients have included Sarah Jessica Parker, Julia Roberts, Keith Richards, Andy Warhol, Andrew M. Cuomo, Marc Jacobs, the New York City Ballet, Estée Lauder, Vanity Fair and Miramax. It's not certain whether Bass's clientele will follow her uptown, where residents are upset about a realtor's name-change from South Harlem to SoHa. Longtime residents say calling Harlem SoHa devalues the neighborhood's rich political and cultural history.
Harlem_Neighborhood_Name_04011 A Whole Foods Market set to open in July advertises the official opening date above it's front doors as people stroll by along West 125th Street in Harlem, Monday, June 26, 2017, in New York. Some residents say the fancy and fresh foods market is just another sign of gentrification while others welcome the addition of another supermarket in the area. Still others worry prices will be beyond their means. A local realtor has renamed the area SoHa, for southern Harlem, but many longtime residents oppose the name change.

NEW YORK (AP) — In Harlem, a furor has erupted over what was supposed to be a simple, catchy acronym: SoHa.

An attempt by some businesses and real estate professionals to rebrand the southern part of the neighborhood as SoHa has been greeted by many residents as an affront to a capital of African-American culture and history.

They say it smacks of gentrification that has increasingly seen different demographics coming into the area along with rising median rents, which have increased since 2000 from $710 a month to $1,050. That section of Harlem stretches from Central Park to 125th Street and includes such landmarks as the Hotel Theresa, which hosted such figures as Muhammad Ali, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.

“Harlem is a treasure of New York,” said Rep. Adriano Espaillat, whose congressional district includes the area. “I, along with leaders and constituents of this community, stand united to vigorously oppose the renaming of Harlem in yet another sanctioned gentrification.”

New York City is filled with neighborhood names altered by real estate professionals and developers to create cachet, some of which have stuck more than others. There’s SoHo (for south of Houston Street), Nolita (north of Little Italy), Tribeca (triangle below Canal) and Dumbo (down under the Manhattan Bridge overpass), just to name a few.

Occasional references to SoHa as a neighborhood date back almost 20 years but have picked up steam recently, including on local businesses, such as the real estate agency Keller Williams NYC, which used SoHa for the team of real estate agents focusing on the area.

Keller Williams this past week told The Wall Street Journal it had decided to change the team name out of respect and passion for the area’s people, history and culture. It is now listed on its website as “Central Harlem.”

Tiffany Simone, 54, has experienced the outrage firsthand.

A lifetime resident of the area, Simone and a few other people took over a flea market in the area a few years ago and called it the Soha Square Market. She says it was actually a reference to the idea that their market was “so Harlem,” and also a girl’s name meaning “star.”

But so many people complained about it, thinking she was adopting the SoHa moniker, that she ended up changing the name to the Harlem Square Open-Air Market.

“I decided it wasn’t worth it,” said Simone, who is black. “This is the community I’m from, and the last thing I want to do is offend my community.”

Casey Tucker, 24, who moved to Harlem last year, is among those firmly against the name.

“I feel like I live in Harlem. Not SoHa.”

Carl Shipman, a 43-year-old lifetime resident of the neighborhood, agreed.

“Harlem is more than a name,” he said. “It’s a feeling.”

Copyright © 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up