Over the past five years, the American Booksellers Association has witnessed a resurgence in independent bookselling, yet the number of bookstores owned by African-Americans has continued to decline. Between 2002 and 2012, twothirds of black-owned bookstores closed, according to statistics compiled by Troy Johnson, founder of the AfricanAmerican Literature Book Club (AALBC). Of the roughly 400 stores that remained, more than half closed in 2013 and 2014. The closings continued in 2015, leaving only 67 black-owned bookstores at the end of January 2016. Despite tough times, booksellers and other entrepreneurs aren’t giving up.
It was a personal connection that also led Pamela Blair to create EyeSeeMe Educational Bookstore in University City, Mo. When she homeschooled her four children, she had trouble finding books for them that featured black children. In response, she wrote three of her own books—The Story of Jacob, The Story of Abraham, andThe Story of Creation. Because of the response from friends and neighbors, she launched EyeSeeMe.com in 2011 to sell her work. Last June, she expanded the concept with a bricks-andmortar children’s bookstore that carries her books and those of other writers on African-American culture and history. Like Johnson, Blair continues to add new programs. “We’re constantly growing the store to help the community to see themselves,” Blair said. For her, that translates into online and in-school book fairs with diverse books, as well as a year-round “book-angel” program that donates children’s books with positive images of African-American children and families to schools and nonprofit centers. The store also has a physical classroom, which she plans to use for events, such as having black medical students talk with middle graders about STEM subjects.
Although the future of black-owned bookstores remains precarious, the need for them to grow and thrive is clear. “People want to have a place to go to celebrate and investigate black heritage,” Sankofa’s Gerima said. “They are places for people to be restored and rejuvenated.” —Judith Rosen
excerpts from P u b l i s h e r s W e e k l y . c o m -F e b r u a r y 2 2 , 2016