Black-Owned Bookstores Are Making a Comeback

Worker-ownership is helping to keep at least one of them around.

Instead of closing, Wild Fig Books & Coffee in Lexington, Kentucky, will convert into a worker-cooperative. (Photo by Boyd Shearer)

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If you happen to be looking for a black-owned bookstore to do some holiday shopping this year, there’s some good news. Black-owned bookstores are making a recovery around the country.

From a peak of 324 black-owned bookstores in 1999, the number fell to 54 by 2014. But as the 2018 holiday season comes around there are 110 black-owned bookstores, according to the African American Literature Book Club’s listing.

“Last year was the first year I added more stores to the list than I took away,” said Troy Johnson, who runs the book club, according to an April story in Publisher’s Weekly.

In Philadelphia, Marc Lamont Hill’s Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee & Books, in Germantown, celebrates its one-year anniversary. In D.C., MahoganyBooks is also celebrating its first birthday — the Southeast D.C. shop was profiled in Vanity Fair earlier this year.

In Lexington, Kentucky, the news is especially sweet for Wild Fig Books & Coffee, which was headed for closure until a grassroots campaign raised $35,000 to save it, WUKY Kentucky Public Radio reported. The bookstore will now be converted into a worker-owned cooperative as well, according to the station.

Worker cooperative conversions are gaining interest as an option for small businesses whose owner or owners are approaching retirement age. In Cleveland, a new fund plans to acquire businesses from owners who wish to sell or retire, then support workers in eventually taking over ownership of the business for themselves.

At least one new Wild Fig worker-owner believes that the diversity of the bookstore’s existing patrons show that minority-owned or worker-owned bookstores can attract a diverse customer base.

“We have so many people of a diverse background that are involved, setting that example that you don’t have to be somewhere where the population of people of color is extremely high to have something like this that is successful,” said Wild Fig worker-owner April Taylor, according to WUKY.

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Oscar is Next City's senior economic justice correspondent. He previously served as Next City’s editor from 2018-2019, and was a Next City Equitable Cities Fellow from 2015-2016. Since 2011, Oscar has covered community development finance, community banking, impact investing, economic development, housing and more for media outlets such as Shelterforce, B Magazine, Impact Alpha and Fast Company.

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Tags: small businessworker cooperatives

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