Camden renames street for Larry Miles

Camden Mayor Vic Carstarphen, left, shakes hands with longtime city resident and entrepreneur Larry Miles. The City of Camden renamed 6th Street Lawrence "Larry" Miles Sr. Way. Miles is the longtime owner of La Unique African American Books and Cultural Center.

Camden Courier-Post – March 5, 2024


CAMDEN –- When Larry Miles came to Camden in the early 1970s, he wasn't sure how long he would stay.

A veteran of the U.S. Air Force, the Maryland native settled in Camden after active duty and continued his service in the Air Force and Army reserves. He felt the area had good access to public transportation and was convenient.

Miles initially opened a deli and grocery store in town. He later had a travel agency and gift shop. But what he's most known for now is the bookshop he opened in 1991 called La Unique African American Books and Cultural Center.

Miles, 90, has changed lives and educated visitors to his shop about African history, African American history and culture.

On March 2, despite a steady rain, the City of Camden honored Miles by renaming 6th street between Cooper and Market as Lawrence “Larry” Miles Sr. Way. Miles, who was a city resident for many decades, now resides in Pennsauken.

He is known as "Mr. Larry" to many in the community and is an iconic figure in the city.

"It feels wonderful, really, I feel good about it," Miles said. "I think it's good being able to smell your roses while you're alive. I've done a lot here in the city and I'm still trying to do the best I can. Education and culture have been my favorite subjects. I'm trying to continue with the program that I have."

Serving the community with books, education

His shop, located at 111 North 6th Street, has an impressive collection of African artifacts and works of art.

You can call him an entrepreneur, a teacher and a father figure to many in the city. He is also a father, grandfather and great-grandfather as well.

"It's so appropriate," said Camden Mayor Vic Carstarphen, a former star basketball player at Camden High. "It's a great opportunity to honor Mr. Larry. He's got years of dedication to our community, to the City of Camden. He's a pillar. He's teaching African history, culture. Personally invested historic items, putting them on display. Teaching future generations. Just placing importance of our ancestry and African contributions here in the City of Camden."

"I get pleasure just going to see him. Just good conversation and getting good context to history of the City of Camden and when it comes to African history and just in general. This has been for years before I got into public service. I have friends and uncles who know him and all speak so highly of him."

From travel agency, gift shop to a bookstore in Camden

Miles said his travel agency was going well until the airlines starting cutting back on commission and then a fuel crisis came along. He had to do something to maintain the building he was buying. He moved the travel agency to the back and opened up a gift shop out front.

"It was nice but wasn't what I wanted, so I put a small bookshelf in here," he recalled. "And I put children's books in, because our kids need something to read and need education. It went so good. That's when I decided I'd get rid of the gift shop and I'd open up a bookstore and it's been operating since 1991."

Prior to COVID, Miles hosted regular film screenings, poetry readings and open mics in the 70-seat movie theater in the back of the building and the reading room downstairs often hosted book club meetings. His shop is in a rowhouse.

In 2021, he started a GoFundMe so his business could continue. Like other independent bookstores, he was struggling to compete with entities such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble and big box stores. People read books in a variety of ways today such as on their iPads, Nooks, Kindles. Or they listen to audiobooks.

"He says it hasn't been easy but through the grace of God he's been pushing through and has been fortunate enough to have people that support and care for him and continue to come through and that's a testament to who he is as an individual," Carstarphen said.

"It's something that I can personally not get out of," Miles explained. "Family has said 'time to go, time to give it up', but I enjoy when I have young folks that have come here and bought books and they later moved on, graduated from college and come back and say 'Mr. Larry, you have really impressed me, the books that I've gotten from you have helped me'. I hear that and I feel good about it, that I'm contributing to the community, the young folks in the community and I can see results.”


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