Starting a business online 14 years ago really sparked something deep in me. I really wanted people to have access to Black books wherever they were so they would have the self-confidence I gained from reading certain books, the knowledge of what we have contributed to society.
Online was a way we could reach the entire nation from our little one-bedroom apartment. For 10 years we were drop-shipping books to people across the nation. When we would be out in the community hosting pop-ups, we always had to say we didn’t have a store, but we’re online. Building that community face-to-face and driving traffic online was great. We still have a robust online business, but now it’s coupled with a store. We were able to add a whole different aspect to our company by retaining that online community.
Transitioning to a physical store was always in our mind’s eye. It was just having the money catch up with our dream.
It was really important to us to be able to create a space where people felt seen, where people felt heard, where the music reflected who they are, the pictures on the walls represented Black people in our community and little kids could see images of themselves—Brown faces on books. The significance of that was huge, and you couldn’t do that in a very significant way online.
There was no money. We talked to a couple of banks, and they were like, “That’s cute, but there’s this online behemoth and ebooks. Why would you do that?” A lot of stores were closing—Black bookstores, independent bookstores—all around us. So, no bank loans. It was 401(k) or bust.
We knew what it meant to the community. Anacostia deserved a bookstore. I was doing research and found that D.C. is one of the most literate cities in the United States. Here we were with a community that was 94% Black and had no bookstore. There had not been a bookstore in over 20 years. It really sealed the deal for us.
There were so many naysayers along the way telling us “Don’t do this,” “People aren’t going to buy books,” “Do Black people read?” Mute those naysayers and stay true to yourself, the vision and the seed of the idea that was planted in you. —As told to Graison Dangor