Recognizing the transporting power of great stories, we decided to celebrate our love for many of their keepers: independent, Black-owned bookstores across the country. And now, when it’s more critical than ever to shine a light on underrepresented voices, we’re supporting them by shopping online and tuning in to their programming across social media. From New York to California, here are 12 bookstores we love.
The Lit. Bar
New York City
The Lit. Bar opened in 2019 as the Bronx’s only independent bookstore, with a mission to “create a haven that inspires reading, encourages healthy social interaction, highlights diverse voices, and increases intellectual visibility in the Bronx.” An added bonus? The multifunctional spot also serves as a wine bar and event space.
Support it by: Subscribing to its newsletter and shopping for books online
Eso Won Books
Eso Won—which means “water over rocks” in Amharic, the official national language of Ethiopia—opened in a strip mall in the 1980s and has moved locations several times: to La Brea Avenue in Inglewood and now on Degnan Boulevard in Crenshaw. No matter the location, devotees have remained loyal, with writer Ta-Nehisi Coates even calling Eso Won his favorite bookstore.
Support it by: Shopping its online bookstore
Fulton Street Books and Coffee
Fulton Street sells books, sure, but what it specializes in is children’s subscriptions, “Ally Boxes,” and programs like Noise on Fulton Street (its take on NPR’s Tiny Desk concerts) and the Syllabus book club, which pairs texts with art, cinema, music, and more.
Support it by: Joining the Ally Box waitlist, buying merch, or signing up for a “Little and Lit” monthly subscription, which delivers a curated selection of diverse children’s books to your doorstep.
Chicago’s only Black woman-owned bookstore and gallery, Semicolon opened in 2019 near the Grand Blue Line stop in West Town. A mural of Frida Kahlo and Jean-Michel Basquiat dominates the shop’s north wall, and books are arranged artistically—covers facing out, instead of spines. They’re also grouped by association rather than genre, part of owner-author-editor-curator DL Mullen’s belief in making the space more about the experience than the books. (In the “Books That Make You Think” category, you might find Erik Larson’s Dead Wake, James Baldwin essays, and a biography of Henri Matisse, per Chicago magazine.)
Support it by: Shopping its online bookstore and donating to its #ClearTheShelves initiative, which invites students from Chicago Public Schools to visit the store and take home whatever books they’d like, free of charge.
In the wake of the George Floyd protests, Dionne Sims was looking for a way to support Black-owned bookstores and couldn’t find any in Minnesota. So she decided to start one herself. In a viral tweet from June, Sims wrote that opening one had long been a dream, and a GoFundMe page launched by Sims reached its $72,000 goal in two days. A brick-and-mortar store is forthcoming.
Support it by: Shopping its Bookshop page for recommendations curated by Sims
A West Philadelphia mainstay since the 1950s, Hakim’s was started by Dawud Hakim, a scholar, author, and lecturer; the shop today is still run by family. The store stocks more than 200 children’s books, as well as hundreds of titles on African American studies, history, philosophy, and religion.
Support it by: Shopping its online store
Founded in 2007 by husband and wife duo Derrick and Ramunda Young, MahoganyBooks was online for the first decade of its existence. In 2017, the Youngs opened a store inside the Anacostia Arts Center, and Mahogany has since become known for its numerous story times, author readings, and deep inventory of books.
Support it by: Signing up for its newsletter, following its book clubs, and shopping its online store
Marcus Books, one of the oldest Black-owned bookstores in the country, was cofounded in San Francisco in 1960 by two doctors. Now based in Oakland, the bookstore is managed by the daughter of the original owners. A new website will launch later in September. (The store has temporarily paused new order requests due to the high volume of customers.)
Support it by: Contributing to its 6oth anniversary GoFundMe page
Brain Lair Books
South Bend, Indiana
In 2018, school librarian Kathy Burnette opened Brain Lair Books, selling titles for children and young adults that are focused on inclusivity, empathy, and community. (Brain Lair is an anagram for “librarian.”) That’s not all: In the spirit of the books it sells, Brain Lair also offers discounts to teachers and college students and hosts community events.
Support it by: Following its Crowdcast page for upcoming conversations and readings, and shopping for books or gift cards online
Located on historic Auburn Avenue, For Keeps specializes in rare and classic books by Black authors, including signed editions of titles from Audre Lorde, Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, and Gwendolyn Brooks. Stop by in person and you’ll find that some titles aren’t for sale but are supplied for in-store reading, like a community library.
Support it by: Shopping its online store
Community Book Center
Community Book Center’s tagline is “More Than a Book Store”—and that it is: In addition to books, the center also sells art, fabric, and gifts; it also serves as a storytelling venue for book clubs, churches, schools, and book fairs.
Support it by: Making a donation or placing an order through its Book Order Form
The Little Boho Bookshop
Bayonne, New Jersey
After more than 15 years in the book publishing industry, Sandra Dear decided to act on her lifelong dream, opening The Little Boho Bookshop in July 2017. With a focus on books for children, teens, and young adults, the store has no shortage of offerings.
Support it by: Shopping its online store for merch, gift cards, and—of course—new and used books