Written by Katie Martinez
The number of bookstores owned by African Americans has increased recently from around fifty-four in 2014 to about one hundred and eight today, according to an article in Publishers Weekly.
As many people continue to turn to the internet with sites like Amazon for their literary needs, many of these smaller bookstores are learning how to compete and thrive in the constantly changing market. One bookstore in Washington, D.C., provides tablets to patrons in the store in order to help them find the book they’re looking for. Even the nation’s oldest African-American-owned bookstore is adapting to the increasingly tech-centered industry by emphasizing its online presence. Along with implementing these adaptations, the rise of African American bookstores has also often been associated with the visibility and success of African-American-centered politics.
The number of African American bookstores significantly increased in the ‘60s and ‘70s with the rise of the Black Power movement and again in the ‘80s with the surge in popularity of the Afrocentrism movement. The rise of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and an increased focus on intersectionality within other social justice causes may be an influencing factor in this rise of African-American-owned bookstores. While some of these stores may focus on literature written by black authors, many of them include a wide range of materials written by a wide range of authors on diverse subjects. Other bookstores have also decided to provide a more limited range of books and devoted a larger amount of space for patrons to simply hang out, drink coffee, and relax. Many of these bookstores are located in rapidly gentrifying areas, providing locals with the much-needed space to come together and engage in activities as a community. These African-American-owned bookstores are balancing the necessity of keeping up with the industry—as it becomes more invested in technology—with the desire to cultivate a sense of community among readers and provide a physical structure in which people can connect with each other over their favorite books and a cup of coffee.