Home » Bookstores » A New Generation of African-American-Owned Bookstores

A New Generation of African-American-Owned Bookstores

From Publishers Weekly:

When Troy Johnson began tracking the number of black-owned bookstores in the U.S. in 1999, there were more than 325. By 2014, that number had dwindled to 54, a decline of 83%.

“They were closing left and right, and the major ones were struggling,” said Johnson, who runs the African American Literature Book Club, an online book database. Today, Johnson estimates, there are at least 108 black-owned independent stores, a number of which have opened in the past six months, marking a substantial reversal. “Last year was the first year I added more stores to the list than I took away,” he noted.

The surge in black-owned indie bookstores is notable at a time when both bookselling and publishing are wrestling with issues of workforce diversity.

Ramunda and Derrick Young, wife-and-husband owners of the newly opened MahoganyBooks, looked for a physical location for years, but a wave of gentrification in Washington, D.C., left them with few promising options. That changed in early 2017, when they found a location in the Anacostia Arts Center, in the historically African-American neighborhood of Anacostia in Southeast D.C. Ramunda, a former general books manager of the Howard University Bookstore, said opening a store was a logical step toward diversifying the couple’s business after having run a books website serving predominately African-American readers for a decade.

MahoganyBooks opened in February and is the first bookstore in Anacostia in 20 years. The 500-sq.-ft. store has an adjacent events space for large readings. With tablets for readers to locate books online while they browse, the store fulfills the couple’s vision of “a bookstore 2.0,” Derrick said.

“Bookstore 2.0” is shorthand for the Youngs’ effort to integrate the physical store and the long-standing digital operation, creating independent sources of revenue that stand alone but point to one another. In-store technology points to the website, and the website now points to the physical store’s events. “We thought, if there were another big crazy economic downturn, how would we prepare ourselves so that we would have multiple streams of income?” Derrick said.

. . . .

When forensic anthropology professor Christina Benton opened Janco Books in Las Vegas in October 2017, readers asked if she would model her store after Native Son, a neighborhood African-American specialty bookstore that closed in 2008. Benton expanded the store’s African-American section, but she said her interest is in catering to as broad a community as possible. “It’s a general bookstore owned by an African-American person,” she said.

With a selection of new and used books, Janco caters most of all to families that homeschool in the area. “They buy the most, because they need to have the resources,” Benton said.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Bookstores

3 Comments to “A New Generation of African-American-Owned Bookstores”

  1. “We thought, if there were another big crazy economic downturn, how would we prepare ourselves so that we would have multiple streams of income?”

    Great advice for businesses and individuals, and something that experienced, long-career writers and publishers like Kris Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith have been banging on about for years.
    Those little trickles that didn’t seem all that important at one time can keep the lights on and food on the table when a major source of income disappears.

    • To me, the earlier statement is the key:

      “Bookstore 2.0” is shorthand for the Youngs’ effort to integrate the physical store and the long-standing digital operation, creating independent sources of revenue that stand alone but point to one another. In-store technology points to the website, and the website now points to the physical store’s events. “

      Good for the Youngs.
      Too many bookstores seem to pretend that the internet doesn’t exist in the world of books.
      Hopefully their model works for their chosen market.

  2. One business that looks at changing consumer buying patterns – and embraces them, rather than resist (or ignore) them.

    Another that looks at a fast growing market, that is currently very poorly served, and services that market aggressively.

    And what do the elites of the book world see as the most important takeaway from their stories? Their skin color.

    These business owners should be leading panels at bookseller conventions – and not ones with “diversity” anywhere in their descriptions. The odds are against it, though.

Leave a Reply