Though it may be hard to measure just how much the reverberations from George Floyd’s murder contributed to the opening of Black bookstores, the number of such stores has more than doubled, from 54 at the nadir in 2014 to 111 today, according to Troy Johnson, founder and webmaster of (the African American Literature Book Club). In addition to operating the oldest Black online bookstore, Johnson opened his first month long pop-up in Tulsa, Okla., the Black Wall Street Bookstore, in August to mark the centennial of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. The store was so successful that he continues to supply the Greenwood Welcome Center, where the store was located, with books.

Among some of the newer stores on Johnson’s list are second locations for established stores like MahoganyBooks in Washington, D.C., which opened a bookstore at the National Harbor in Prince George’s County in July, and Harriett’s Bookshop in Philadelphia, which held a soft opening for its sister store, Ida’s Bookshop in Collingswood, N.J., on the Fourth of July.

Harriett’s founder and owner Jeannine Cook is in the midst of readying a new nearby location for the original Harriett’s, after raising close to $236,000 through GoFundMe to purchase the building and receiving a grant from the Merchant Fund for renovations. A groundbreaking ceremony will take place early next year. Cook is already considering options for a third store, named for Sojourner Truth, possibly in Harlem.

Thirty-two-year-old Malik Books in the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza in Los Angeles also expanded during the pandemic, despite a significant drop in revenue when the store was forced to close for six months. “The pandemic aggressively pushed me out to do marketing and to engage our community locally and nationally,” said founder Malik Muhammad. He added that he was able to benefit from the Black Lives Matter movement precisely because he had a marketing campaign and a website in place. In July 2020, he began doing book reviews for Ryan Seacrest’s syndicated radio show, On Air with Ryan Seacrest, which led to an appearance by Muhammad and his wife, April Muhammad, in January on The Ellen DeGeneres Show.

Following a GoFundMe campaign that raised just over $24,000, Muhammad opened a temporary second location at the Westfield Culver City mall last November. With a boost from two highly successful preorder campaigns—one for Virgil Abloh’s Icons and the other for Nicole LePera’s How to Do the Work—he is in the midst of negotiating an extended lease.

“It was a leap of faith, so we didn’t want to go into a long-term thing,” Muhammad said about opening the second location. “I consider it my best decision of 2020.”


A full version of this article appeared in the 10/18/2021 issue of Publishers Weekly under the headline: Another Pandemic Surprise

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