Black-owned Bookstores See Waves of Support

Amid the ongoing protests that began last week in response to the murder of George Floyd, the industry has seen an unprecedented surge in the sale of antiracist titles, and as lists of antiracist books have circulated online, so, too, have lists of Black-owned independent bookstores to support.

Over the past week, Loyalty Bookstores in Washington, D.C., and Silver Springs, Md., have seen roughly 10 times their weekly orders per day, reported founder Hannah Oliver Depp. Prior to this week, Depp had been working about 70-plus hours per week mostly by herself, but business has increased so much over the last several days that she's started to bring back staff and will continue to do so next week.

Returning staff members will help not only with processing orders but also sharing updates with customers. Depp noted that there is a strong possibility that many of these new, nationwide customers may be unused to buying books from indies and unfamiliar with how long it actually takes to process and receive these orders, even without many titles being on backorder and an ongoing pandemic slowing down shipping.

"Honestly, I am stunned," said Depp. So many times before there have been calls to support Black, women-owned businesses, which usually are met with only brief increases. This time, though, it's been growing for days. "I think the reason for this difference is that we're focused now on anti-racism, as opposed to centering whiteness and finding ways for people to worry about if they appear racist. The focus is on our actions, not our words."

Shionka McGlory

Shionka McGlory, owner of Mocha Books in Tulsa, Okla., said the experience has been bittersweet and "sort of a double-edged sword." On one hand, sales have skyrocketed and the store has never received so much attention on social media, which is something to be happy about as a small business owner. But, on the other hand, the circumstances responsible for this wave of support make it a frustrating and emotionally wrought experience.

"I don't think it should have gotten to this point," said McGlory. "It's a lot to process."

McGlory, who has a full-time job as an educator, founded Mocha Books as an online bookstore in 2017, with a focus on fostering a love of reading in children and highlighting books by and about people of color. While she's very passionate about it, she explained, it's always been something of a side project and she never relied that much on book sales. But that has completely changed since her store started appearing on those lists.

The volume of orders has been "crazy" and, aside from some family members helping out, she is doing all of the work herself. Processing orders has been an all-day affair, every day, and she's been to the post office several times this week already. She noted that orders are coming from all over the country, with the majority of them originating from out of state.

Janet Webster Jones and Alyson Jones Turner, the mother-daughter pair who own Source Booksellers in Detroit, Mich., said their store, which specializes in nonfiction, started to appear in Instagram stories about Black-owned bookstores several days ago. They were initially surprised, as they'd never been in the "social media loop" like that before, and then they quickly began getting phone calls and shifting to online sales.

Popular titles have included books like White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo and So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo, but as the more widely publicized titles have gone out of stock, Jones and Turner have sold plenty of books that were less prominently featured, such as The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein and Driving While Black by Gretchen Sorin. At this point, many of the store's antiracist books have sold out and are still in the reordering process.

"We're lucky that we always have these kinds of books," said Turner. "It's our niche and who we are. It's in our DNA."

Jones reported that orders have come from all over the country, including a book club in Bozeman, Mont., and a customer in Maine who saw Jones and her daughter on CSPAN's BookTV recently and wanted to support them.

Despite Michigan allowing retailers to reopen this week, Turner and Jones have not reopened their shop for browsing. After selling so many titles online, they need to get their inventory "under control," and as the store is only 900 square feet, they'll need to rearrange quite a bit to accommodate both processing orders and safe browsing. They have installed a sneeze shield at the register and are wearing masks and gloves.

"We want to be really cautious and slow about reopening," said Jones. "We don't want people feeling scared to come in."

Although they're trying to reopen slowly, Jones continued, customers are clamoring to start shopping there again and, with so much going on at the moment, to talk to her and her daughter. Amid all this support from around the country, she added, the bookstore's community "is still here and with us. Without them we wouldn't be here."

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