by Bill Batson
Karim Deen almost bought the farm in March. And Nyack came close to losing a pillar of our local economy. For nearly four decades Deen has launched businesses, designed fashions, and supported the retail sector in the village. It is a fitting tribute that the tight-knit community that he has nurtured through the years helped save his life.
On a recent afternoon, Karim was seated on a blue sofa in front of his store, Hacienda, waving to well wishers, something his doctor says is nothing short of a miracle. On March 2, 2012 he nearly succumbed to complications from a ruptured appendix. In order to fully appreciate the story of how he came to reach the hospital and the intensity of expression of community support he received, you need to go back to the corner of Main Street and Broadway and the year 1974.
Karim Deen came to this village 38 years ago to join his mother, Philis, who was a supervising night nurse at Nyack Hospital. His mother worked double shifts to fund an English Boarding School education for Karim and his sister Fatima. Mrs. Deen who was from Jamaica, was determined that her children would get the world-class education that was promised to citizens of the British Commonwealth.
The shop keeping tradition of Great Britain must have rubbed off on Karim. He opened his first store, Afrique Curiosity, the year he arrived in Nyack. His neighbors in the ground floor of the Presidential Life building were Trudy and Irv Feiner of Squash Blossom. Since then, Karim has owned and operated three businesses in Nyack.
In addition to his mercantile instinct, the impulse to create is in Karim’s DNA. “My grandmother sewed, my mother sewed and I sew. We all make clothes,” he told me when describing his second business, a design studio he ran with his sister called “Simply Us.” He went on to become the first African American to run a major clothing line in New York’s garment center. One of his lines, “Live in Color,” adorned the Fly Girls, the back up dancers on the iconic 1980’s sketch comedy sensation “In Living Color.”
Karim’s work in the fashion industry required him to travel the world to visit factories and acquire raw material. By 1994, Deen was tiring of the corporate politics of the fashion trade, so he decided to return to Nyack full-time and open his third store: Hacienda. And like a modern day Marco Polo, Karim returned from his expeditions with a treasure trove of artifacts from around the world.
A global cultural ambassador greets visitors to Hacienda. If you inquire about any of the objects in his store, Karim can tell you about the artist who made it or the antique dealer who discovered it. He has personally traveled from Mexico to Morocco and China to India to procure every item. He is particularly proud of his collection of antique African art. All of his pieces, having been tribally used, are very rare. There are only limited known examples of a certain pieces. In some of those cases, if Hacienda has one, the Metropolitan and British Museums have the others according to Deen.
For over ten years, Karim has shared his experience in commerce and culture as one of the directors of the Arts, Crafts and Antique Dealers association of Nyack. Through membership dues and fees from several annual street fairs, ACADA runs radio, television, print and internet advertising campaigns to bring tourists, shoppers and new businesses to Nyack. It was this dedication to building a network of mutual aid that was honored during his recent health emergency.
When Karim’s son Joshua handed a note to Jerry Koblin in early March describing his father’s symptoms, the response of the owner of the pharmacy of the same name was emphatic and blunt. Using a profanity to insure that the urgency of the matter was understood, Koblin urged the son to take his father to the emergency room immediately. Any delay could have resulted in Karim’s death.
At a fundraiser a week later at Casa Del Sol, scores of merchants, customers and friends collected money to help Karim confront a mountain of medical expenses and an unknown period of recuperation. During the early days of Karim’s convalescence, Pickwick Book Shop owner and fellow ACADA director Jack Dunnigan, organized volunteers to keep the doors of Hacienda open.
In a letter that he published in Nyack News and Views to his friends and supporters upon his released from a 12 day hospitalization, Karim Deen acknowledged the irony of selflessness. It is the safety net of interlocking relationships that we construct when we live a life of community involvement that catches us when we fall. And in the case of Karim, put him back in the saddle again.
ACADA’s Famous Street Fair will be held on Sunday, May 20th. Stroll the streets of our Hudson River Valley village and explore dozens of vendors with quality hand made crafts, art, unique gifts and accessories, home decor, and antiques. A children’s area and great food is available. And while you’re here, visit Karim at Hacienda at 126 Main Street.