We have a thing for independent bookstores. They are better in several important ways. We have a thing against one particular big online retailer, whose start in books was just one step in the wrong direction. Our thanks to Hillel Italie, the Associated Press and the CS Monitor for this story, and especially to the biblio-entrepreneurs showcased in this article:
The year 2021 saw a substantial increase in the number of independent bookstores in the United States. And a growing proportion of these stores is owned by individuals from diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds.
Laura Romani, a Chicago-area resident with a background in education and library science, had long been thinking of a new career. “I was at home a couple of years ago, reflecting on all the experience I gained and how I wanted to contribute to the Latino community, while also allowing myself to be on my own and make use of my love for books and passion for multilingualism,” she said.
The solution: Start a bookstore. With help from a local grant and stimulus checks that she and her husband received during the pandemic, Ms. Romani launched Los Amigos Books, initially as an online store last year and now with a small physical outlet with a bright blue front in Berwyn, Illinois. It focuses on children’s stories in English and Spanish.
“It all goes hand in hand,” Ms. Romani said of her decision.
Stores like Ms. Romani’s helped contribute to a year of solid growth and greater diversity for the American Booksellers Association (ABA), the trade group for independent bookstore owners.
According to CEO Allison Hill, the association now has 2,010 members, at 2,547 locations, an increase of more than 300 since Spring 2021. It’s the highest ABA total in years, even though the association in 2020 tightened its rules and permitted only stores which “primarily sell books” (over 50 percent of inventory), as opposed to any stores offering books. The ABA also no longer counts sellers whose memberships are inactive.
Ms. Hill attributes some of the rise to owners who delayed renewing their memberships early in 2021, reflecting uncertainty about the pandemic’s impact. But a substantial number of additions, well over 100, are stores that have opened over the past year, dozens of them owned by people from a wider variety of racial and ethnic groups.
Those stores range from Libelula Books & Co. in San Diego to Yu and Me Books in New York City’s Chinatown, from Modern Tribe Bookshop in Killeen, Texas, to Socialight Society in Lansing, Michigan.
The ABA has long been predominantly white, with board president Jamie Fiocco acknowledging in June 2020 – after George Floyd’s murder – that the association had not done enough to “break down barriers to membership and service for Black, indigenous, and people of color.” Ms. Hill cited numerous recent initiatives, including the expansion of its diversity committee, diversifying its board, increased outreach and – for a time – the waiving of membership fees.
“The rise in BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and People of Color] stores is a big change for us,” Ms. Hill said.
Like Ms. Romani, many new owners had previous careers, or still have them on the side. Sonyah Spencer works as a consultant to help finance The Urban Reader in Charlotte, North Carolina, a store focusing on African American books that she opened in part because of the Black Lives Matters movement and her concern about a rise in book bans.
In Locust Grove, Georgia, Erica Atkins was a college teacher and trainer who, while recuperating from surgery, had a vision – a divine one, she believes – that she should open a store, what is now Birdsong Books.
“I have dedicated my life to knowledge sharing,” she said. “Anytime I am having a conversation with someone, I am giving book recommendations.”…
Read the whole article here.