What Can Happen When We Don’t Support Our Local Bookstores?

By: Ebonye Gussine Wilkins

The rise of digital media has somewhat contributed to the decline in the pursuit of physical books. Some readers are more inclined to purchase digital copies of books, rather than seek out and own a hard copy. This has made physical bookstores harder and harder to find. This is especially true for indie bookstores.

When I lived in Santa Cruz, there were two bigger bookstores that one could go to to find mainstream books as well as independently published work. One was in Capitola, and one was in Downtown Santa Cruz. While there are other stores that sell used books in the area, only the one in Downtown Santa Cruz is still in business—the kind that caters to the average book buying customer.

The trend has been even worse for Black-owned bookstores—let’s face it, because of the bookstore giants, any Black-owned bookstore is an independent bookstore by default. And while there used to be more, that number has shrunk to less than 50. Even Marcus Bookstore, with locations in San Francisco and Oakland, recently got evicted from their SF location. The pot keeps shrinking, and there is less and less that we are doing about it. It’s not that we cannot do anything about it—for whatever reason, we are choosing to turn a blind eye to this issue. Both Marcus in San Francisco, and the Capitola Book Cafe both ran crowdfunding campaigns to keep them going, and they failed. Despite social media, we are not rallying behind our indie and local bookstores. And guess what? We are the ones suffering as a result.

This troubling trend affects us in more ways than one. An article posted on AALBC pointed out that the rabbit hole goes much deeper than we may realize. The ESSENCE Festival, which was once a boon to a Black-owned indie bookstore—Community Book Center—has been serving New Orleans for over 30 years. For seventeen years, it got a major boost by being the bookseller for the ESSENCE Festival. But that changed two years ago, where that wonderful opportunity was given to another bookstore. This has sparked outrage for the people who know about it, but unfortunately, most people didn’t notice. Because of the brand that is the face of the festival has such power, most of us failed to see what they took away from the community that it is supposed to serve. It became an opportunity for almost everyone but the community which it ideally should be serving and supporting.

That is exactly how it starts: first they take away our bookstores, then they take away whatever else they can. But who are “they”? The unfortunate part, is WE are THEY. We are the ones who are taking away our own opportunities by not questioning and challenging the ones who are supposedly making these decisions. We have a lot more power than we think.

It is now up to us to take back our local bookstores. It may cost more, but if you choose to support a locally owned bookstore, you are choosing to invest in your own community, as well as your love of reading.

What is your favorite indie bookstore? Has it closed, or is it still community supported? Let us know in the comments.

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