Jeannine A. Cook opened Harriett's Bookshop earlier this month at 258 E. Girard Ave. in the Fishtown neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pa. Billy Penn reported that "so far, it's been a hit. Half the opening stock sold out within two weeks, Cook said, and neighbors have been supportive both IRL and online." The bookstore will host its official grand opening February 1.
Cook's journey toward achieving her lifelong dream of owning a bookstore was unexpectedly delayed three years ago after she signed a lease for a space at 7th and Girard and began investing in renovations--and then the building burned down.
Devastated, she returned to teaching, "but then a friend forwarded an e-mail from almost a decade ago. In the message, Cook had spoken of her love for writing, and promised she'd open a bookstore one day," Billy Penn noted.
"I was like, 'Oh my gosh, I'm not following my dreams,' " Cook said. "Look how long I've been crying the same tune."
She found a vacant storefront on Fishtown's bustling Girard Avenue corridor and a landlord who was willing to take a chance on an independent bricks-and-mortar retailer. The bookshop's early success has been "the opposite of what some told Cook to expect from the area, which has gained a reputation as a gentrifying enclave of well-off, majority white residents," Billy Penn wrote.
"One of my mentors was just like, 'Girl, you are so crazy. You know you can't open a bookshop in Fishtown. You're Black,' " Cook recalled. "And I was like, 'You know who else been told that? Harriet Tubman.' "
Harriett's Bookshop focuses on books that are written by women or address gender. Each month, Cook plans to feature a local woman artist, and curate the window book display to match how the art makes her feel. She is also planning of events, community partnerships and programs that serve women and kids, and wants to clear out the second room of the shop and craft a reading area for kids. Another goal is to hire some people who were previously incarcerated, hearkening back to her past life as a teacher, Billy Penn wrote.
Cook noted that she is glad to have proven wrong conventional wisdom about the neighborhood: "Fishtown has been very receptive."
She told KYW Newsradio: "When the world is saying it's necessary, then when is a better time. It's just now is the time to have a bookshop that is women centric, celebrating activists, authors and artists.... We get to go where others are afraid to go. We can't call ourselves Harrietts and be scared. And the reception has been amazing."