Black-owned bookstores across the country have seen a rise in sales in the wake of widespread Black Lives Matter protests. However, in the months prior, many Black-owned bookstores were severely struggling to keep their doors open. For these stores to continue to thrive, we have to celebrate the many reasons these establishments make our communities better. Intentionalist believes supporting Black-owned business is a movement, not a moment, and we encourage you to #SpendLikeItMatters at Black-owned bookstores today and for years to come!
Our InTENtional List of 10 Black-owned bookstores throughout the country highlights some reasons why the people behind these stores love what they do.
1. Estelita’s Library – Seattle, WA – #BlackOwned, #FamilyOwned, #WomanOwned
Edwin Lindo and his partner, Dr. Estell Williams, opened Estelita’s Library inside The Station‘s former café space in Beacon Hill in 2018. The cozy space’s shelves are lined with curated books focusing on social justice issues. Heads up: The space doesn’t have WiFi – and that’s intentional. Edwin and Estell wanted visitors to be able to read, reflect, and have conversations without distraction.
“There’s something powerful for my community, for myself, to be able to say, ‘We have a space.’ Unconditional space. No strings attached.”— Edwin Lindo in an interview with Seattle’s Office of Economic Development
2. Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee & Books – Philadelphia, PA – #BlackOwned
Growing up, Marc Lamont Hill’s Uncle Bobbie taught him the importance of critical literacy as a Black man living in the contemporary United States. Today, Lamont Hill is a Temple University professor, CNN commentator, and the owner of Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee and Books in Germantown. Whether you come to sip a specialty coffee or purchase a book by a featured African-American author, you’ll find that the shop is home to a robust community.
“My dream has always been to do this. Market forces make it hard, but I have had an abiding faith in Black people. That we will support each other, that we will care for each other, and that we are interested in knowledge.”— Lamont Hill in an interview with Philadelphia Magazine
3. Mahogany Books – Washington D.C. – #BlackOwned #FamilyOwned #WomanOwned
For 10 years, MahoganyBooks was an online bookstore before opening a brick and mortar location in 2017. This independent, family-owned bookstore carries books written for, by, or about folks of African descent, Owners Ramunda Young and Derrick Young have long sought to empower others through accessible, representational literature.
“It’s not just a bookstore; we’re changing perceptions of how we see ourselves… It [also] feels like our legacy.”— Ramunda Young in an interview with Color Magazine
4. Community Book Center – New Orleans, LA – #BlackOwned #WomanOwned
A celebrated New Orleans landmark, Community Book Center is owned by founder Vera Warren-Williams and run with the help of beloved store manager, Jennifer Turner. Known to the locals as “Mama Vera” and “Mama Jennifer,” the two are dedicated to stocking Community Book Center with an extensive collection of books written by authors of color. In addition to books, the shop also hosts community events and sells art, jewelry, and other gifts.
“I decided to address the void in children’s books that did reflect African-American children… I saw the profound effects that it had on the children to open up the books and see images of themselves there, as well as culturally relevant stories.”— Vera Williams in an interview with Mid City Messenger
5. The Lit Bar – The Bronx, NY – #BlackOwned #LatinxOwned #WomanOwned
In 2014, Noëlle Santos was working as a Human Resources Director when she learned that her local Barnes and Noble was destined to close. A huge book-fiend herself, Santos was determined to keep a bookstore in The Bronx. Five years and tons of bookstore research later, The Lit Bar was born! Today, you can visit the wine-bar-meets-bookstore and sip your favorite glass while digging into a juicy new read!
“Books were my tool to economic mobility, my form of entertainment growing up. I felt like it was an atrocity to take that tool away from the youth that are coming up behind me. Books were my window outside of my little five-block radius in Soundview.”— Noëlle Santos in an interview with Essence
6. Semicolon Bookstore – Chicago, IL – #BlackOwned #WomanOwned
Semicolon Bookstore & Gallery began as a total blank slate building in the Fulton River District. DL Mullen had always dreamed of making a living surrounded by books as either a bookstore owner or librarian. In July 2019, she opened Chicago’s only Black woman-owned bookstore. As the name implies, the store doubles as an art gallery and often showcases work from talented Black artists.
“Black booksellers are a lot different—they have what seems to be a different kind of focus. I think naturally Black booksellers are going to be more focused on the community than the dollars and cents. I also recognize that Black bookselling is a different beast. We’re just making our own way.”— DL Mullen in an interview with Chicago Reader
7. Frugal Bookstore – Roxbury, MA – #BlackOwned #FamilyOwned #WomanOwned
Much has changed since Frugal Bookstore opened in 2006, including neighborhood gentrification and the rise of online book-selling giants. But one thing stays the same: the community-minded, book-loving service of store owners Clarissa and Leonard Egerton. Together, the two have cultivated an enthusiastic following around their store by offering specialized services — they’ll order any book you want! — and by hosting engaging community events. Whether you stop in for a book signing or join their regular book club, you’ll find it’s hard to leave the charming store without a new read.
“Customers come in and they say, ‘I want a book that my daughter or my son can see themselves in, to build their confidence, their self-esteem.”— Clarissa Egerton in an interview with The Bay State Banner
8. EyeSeeMe African American Children’s Bookstore – University City, MO – #BlackOwned #FamilyOwned #Woman Owned
EyeSeeMe African American Children’s Bookstore is a special store, not just because it’s home to the biggest collection of African American children’s books, but because of the impact that it continues to have on its community every day. Pamela and Jeffrey Blair opened the store in 2015, largely inspired by their four children, and the desire for them to fully comprehend their identity and history.
“Children that can see themselves in literature and history, their role in society…it helps to visualize and see Black imagery in a positive way… Friends and family started asking why our children’s self-esteem was so great.”— Jeffrey Blair in an interview with NBC News.
9. Brain Lair Books – South Bend, IN – #BlackOwned #WomanOwned
Before opening her very own bookstore, Kathy Burnette was an elementary and middle school librarian for over 20 years. Today, Brain Lair Books (a clever anagram for librarian, if you didn’t catch it) is an inclusive space that aims to curate books for marginalized populations, but especially for children and teens. Something unique? Burnette has read almost every book on her shelves. Her philosophy is that she shouldn’t be telling kids to read a book she hasn’t read herself!
“There are window books, where you’re looking out to see what the world is like, and there are mirror books that reflect something that is happening with you. It is damaging to your psyche [not to see yourself reflected in books]. You can’t figure out how you fit in in this world, and you have a limited idea of the possibilities of what you can do to contribute to society.”— Owner Kathy Burnette in an interview with The Observer
10. Black Stone Bookstore & Cultural Center – #BlackOwned – Ypsilanti, MI
With the African American book selection at local retailers being slim-to-none, Michigan locals Carlos Franklin and Kip Johnson opened their own independent bookstore in 2013. Today, as the name implies, Black Stone Bookstore & Cultural Center is more than a bookstore; it’s a cultural hub. The curated collection spans many genres and topics including African-American culture and African culture, religion, and urban fiction. But the most significant thing about the store? It has grown its own loving and supportive community.
“Our whole goal was to come together and be a positive example for our community. You can go in there and meet people with powerful minds… We want to create a good spirit where people come because they like the product. The world is round and it’ll go back to books.”— Carlos Franklin in an interview with MLive
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Intentionalist is your local guide to small businesses and the diverse people behind them. We believe that where you spend your money matters, and we’re sure glad you do too! Whether you identify as a localist, activist, or just a good neighbor, we make it easy for you to connect with, learn about, and support small businesses in your community through everyday decisions about where you eat, drink, and shop.