All Shades Welcomed in Shades of Afrika

By: 
Erika Johnson

Shades of Afrika on 4th St. in Long Beach has everything you need when it comes to your mind, body and spirit.

The store caters to everyone who wants to have a prolific and flourishing spiritual journey. Inside this store there are items ranging from sage to books to the detailed artwork.

Renee Quarles, the owner of Shades of Afrika, started this business from the ground back in the early 90s. She used her unemployment checks to start planting the seed. After discussing with her sister, they both realized there needed to be a presence and black business in the community.

Then, in 1994 Shades of Afrika first popped up on 3rd Street in Long Beach.

“There was no African American art presence either,” Quarles said. “There was not a place to buy a book or see an art image that was authored or created by us.”

Quarles first opened her doors to the community and was shocked by the amount of people that came in and shouted at her in the beginning. For a moment, people would mistook her for a witch because of her practices.

That did not stop Shades of Afrika and its spiritual owner from welcoming everyone from the Long Beach community.

As the store gained momentum, the inventory began to grow. Quarles still remained true to her original plan in showcasing more African art to the public.

During her quest for more black art, she found her first purchase from an artist selling a piece at a local Sears store. It was during this moment that Quarles was able to reach out and make more connections with other black artists and buy their art for her blossoming store.

Even though she started this store to bring more cultural artwork to the community, Quarles began to bring in other items from different countries she would visit. During these visits to African countries she acquired more knowledge to educate the people that follow the path to her store.

“I find more art, books and handmade items during my travels in Ghana and Egypt,” she said. “I bring home the knowledge of self as well and not to mention handing a dollar over to another African.”

Shades of Afrika takes part in holistic healing which can be categorized into hair care, body care and anything needed for the body internally.

However, Shades of Afrika was not just started because of the lack of African art, but because of the hardships that Quarles has gone through. Shades of Afrika helped Quarles begin her journey of healing. The unique store was everything that she wanted that the community was not able to give her at that moment.

“My motivation is to give black people all around me something more,” she said. “I’m not going to keep taking their money and not show the fruit of their planting.”

Jocelyn Larin, a Long Beach native, remembers being drawn to this store because of the many different services they offered in the building. She was interested in the yoga classes they were offering but soon after got curious about what Shades of Afrika had inside.

Upon entering the self-healing store, Larin recalled how friendly and attentive the staff was to her and her friend.

“Everybody was so friendly and even helped my friend get hair treatment,” Larin said via email. “I think we even stayed after a while and just talked. It was a welcoming experience.”

After her first encounter, Larin finds herself going back to the shop because of the inviting smell of incense as she passes by.

Once Quarles is done paying for the Shades of Afrika building, she sees herself opening up a soul food vegan restaurant. This project she refers to as “Wakanda Station” encompasses all African treats but with a vegan twist.

“It really matters that we reestablish another business because we have none here,” she said. “I want to give us something that we don’t already have.”

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