Just steps beyond the pristine grounds of the Hayes Valley Proxy, tucked away beyond the pastures of Patricia’s Green, sits a small, narrow shop just off the beaten path of Octavia Street.
Judah Dwyer and Horgan Edet met at a reggae club in the late 1980s. Not long after their meeting, they decided to go into business together. The two embarked upon a journey to bring a bit of Africa to the streets of America. The result: The African Outlet.
Originally, the shop was stationed on Divisadero, but Dwyer and Edet moved it to the quiet corner of Octavia and Ivy in 1994, where it has resided ever since.
“It just seemed like the right thing to do, if only from the perspective of giving out accurate information,” recalls Dwyer, who grew up around Mississippi.
“When I went to school – and this burns all in my brain – the continent of Africa was all dark: it was black. I’m not even sure Madagascar was included. It was called, ‘The Black Continent,’ and it had about three sentences, and that was it, in a textbook in sixth grade. I will never forget that. I don’t care where you’re from, what culture needs to be represented — bring it on real, and just be respectful.”
Walking into the narrow space, the intense aroma of incense fills the nostrils while rhythmic music booms in the air. Wall-to-wall icons line the shop – tribal statues, jewelry, and trinkets of all shapes and sizes cover nearly every inch of real estate. Take a virtual look inside:
Though Edet is a native Nigerian, the duo attempts to represent as many regions of the continent as they can with their collection. From high-profile items that take up tremendous visual space to smaller, more precious ones that occupy one or two shelves, each object has its own story to tell.
Yet behind the masks and woven into the fabrics that adorn The African Outlet is a grander desire than just a simple sale. Dwyer sees it as an opportunity to educate and inform: to be a resource for folks. From Peace Corps volunteers looking for a sense of home to tourists merely passing by, she invites all to join in and share the vibe.
“Whether it’s to satisfy your shopping needs, or your educational needs, or your ceremonial needs, or your music needs, or your performance needs – bring it on!”