This is Tylicia Messiah, the driving force working to preserve Washington’s only Black-owned bookstore focused on the African diaspora and co-founder of L.E.M.S. Bookstore in Seattle’s Columbia City neighborhood as it transitions into a nonprofit. Originally owned by Tylicia’s grandma Vickie Williams, L.E.M.S. has always been a cultural hub where people gather and learn about African and African-American culture and literature. Since Vickie passed in 2017, the bookstore was forced to close but Tylicia’s uncle, Hassan Messiah, operated the location as an event space and has been working to restore and revive the bookstore.
Over the past year, Tylicia has been helping organize the bookstore, manage inventory, and selling books at outdoor vendor markets with the goal to historically preserve L.E.M.S. and uphold legacy her grandma created. Learn more about Tylicia in this week’s Business Spotlight Q&A.
The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
What’s something your customers may not know about you or L.E.M.S. Bookstore?
Not only has [L.E.M.S.] been the only Black bookstore in the Pacific Northwest, but it started off as a Christian bookstore. My great grandmother and my great aunt had first founded it as a life enrichment bookstore a bit further south down Rainier Avenue. And when my grandma took it on, she really wanted to seep into her cultural heritage and learn more about that. She was an educator for 20 years before she opened the bookstore — a lot of people might now know that.
What’s your favorite part about the community L.E.M.S. is in and why?
I really like the African drum circles [L.E.M.S.] had. We’ve got an African Spiritualist group working out of there — I think they’re super interesting. I think it’s just pure, straight from Africa. I also really love how [Columbia City] is a small community that the locals are so supportive of being a part of, especially with the local businesses. That’s really awesome. Columbia City is a historical landmark. The whole strip we’re on is a historical landmark, so the businesses that have been there are all historical.
Why is it important to you and your business that people #SpendLikeItMatters?
It’s really important that you support the local businesses and buy from them or you’re going to say goodbye to them. We live in a world [where] tech and the internet make doing things from places so far away seem like they’re right in front of you. But the reality is you need to be present in the community you live in.