How These Black and Afro-Latina-Owned Bookstores Are Staying Alive

How These Black and Afro-Latina-Owned Bookstores Are Staying Alive

The 10th anniversary of Independent Bookstore Day was April 29, and American Express celebrated by partnering with the American Booksellers Association (ABA) to help amplify six diverse independent bookstores across New York and Los Angeles.

The partnership encourages Amex card members to shop and support local bookstores like Octavia’s Bookshelf in the Pasadena area of Los Angeles and The Lit Bar in the Bronx, New York. The Black-owned LA-based bookstore and Afro-Latina-owned NYC-based bookstore are taking part in Amex’s bookstore program where from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Independent Bookstore Day (April 29), shoppers had the opportunity to receive a $25 gift card they can use toward their next book of choice at that store.

“Supporting small businesses and the communities they are a part of is at the heart of what we do,” Marianne Rausch, Vice President, Small Business Saturday & Shop Small, Global Advertising & Brand Management, said.

“We know that small businesses are the backbone of their neighborhoods, and independent bookstores help tell the stories of their communities. From the books they carry to their strong ties to their neighborhoods, they provide a space where people can come together and feel connected. We want to encourage people to check out their local bookstores and Shop Small, on Independent Bookstore Day and all year long.”

(Courtesy of American Express)

The program was born out of the decline of small bookstores in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. Studies show 20% of indie bookstores across the country were in danger of closing, according to the American Booksellers Association.

There’s also a growing interest in reading as the #BookTok trend sweeps TikTok. So far, the hashtag has amassed more than 110 billion views on the platform, with Gen Z leading the pack.  However, despite the growing interest in reading, indie bookstores continue to face challenges with experts predicting they will own less than 30% of the print book market in the U.S. by 2025.

Octavia’s Bookshelf is a new Black-owned bookstore in Pasadena that is also the area’s first and only bookstore focused on BIPOC stories. Named after the late sci-fi author Octavia Butler, who was born and raised in Pasadena, the shop focuses on celebrating diverse authors year-round with a curated selection of books from international BIPOC authors.

Owner Nikki High opened the store in February after going viral In December when announcing her plans to open the store on Twitter. Her GoFundMe campaign raised over $20,000. On opening day, there was a two-and-a-half-hour wait out the door with people from across the city looking to support a Black-owned and BIPOC-focused bookshop.

“Reading and books have always been near and dear to me. I created this store as a gift for my community, but seeing the outpouring of support for it since we opened earlier this year has shown me that people everywhere are craving to hear our stories,” High tells BLACK ENTERPRISE.

“Working together with American Express and the American Booksellers Association for Independent Bookstore Day is allowing me to help even more people discover stories they can connect to.”

(Courtesy of American Express)

The Lit. Bar serves as the Bronx’s only independent brick-and-mortar bookstore in the entire borough. The Afro-Latina woman-owned shop was founded by Noelle Santos in 2015 after she saw the last bookstore in the Bronx was in danger of closing.

Leaving her corporate job, Santos embarked on a mission to save the last bookstore in her community. The store closed its doors during the pandemic but reopened last November on Small Business Saturday.

“I love that Bronx culture literally spills onto the streets in the form of art, food, music, activism, and colorful personalities,” Santos tells BLACK ENTERPRISE.

“Our brand intersects all of these areas as an homage and The Bronx does not play about The Lit. Bar. There’s a history of disinvestment in our community, but we still pooled our limited resources to fund The Lit. Bar’s start-up and ensure we thrived during the pandemic. I’m honored that my community has always believed in me and continues to show their support by shopping small.”

(Courtesy of American Express)

“On Independent Bookstore Day, I am thrilled to welcome even more people into my store and expose them to our literary world here in The Bronx with support from American Express and the American Booksellers Association,” she added.

The Lit. Bar offers a curated selection of books, gifts, and programming that emphasizes the needs and diversity of the community it serves. The shop also offers a wine bar that connects social sipping and introverted reading.

According to American Express’ 2022 Shop Small Impact Study, 67% of Generation Z and 77% of Millennials agree that small businesses are essential to their community. So get out and support your local bookstore to keep the joy of reading alive.