Inside Historic Black Bookstores' Fight for Survival against the COVID-19 PandemicBreaking News
tags: books, African American history, bookstores
OAKLAND – Inside Marcus Books, the nation’s oldest black-owned bookstore, no one lingers anymore over shelves lined with a diasporic collection of African and African-American history, culture, music and literature
Staffers take phone orders from the safety of their homes. Shoppers keep their distance when darting in and out to pick up purchases. Blanche Richardson, whose parents founded Marcus Books 60 years ago, works alone in the store, putting on a protective mask for curbside deliveries.
Operating in a state of emergency is nothing new for independent black-owned bookstores, which for decades have survived on the margins of the publishing industry. But COVID-19 is posing a new kind of existential threat, Richardson says. Most bookstores have seen a drop in overall book sales even as online sales pick up.
For decades, these bookstores have occupied a singular place in the cultural life of black America, says W. Paul Coates, founder and director of Black Classic Press and BCP Digital Printing and father of bestselling author Ta-Nehisi Coates.
“Black bookstores are not just in business to sell books,” Coates says. For most, “their mission is to make sure that the information they are carrying expands their community and expands the minds of the people in the community.”
The origins of today’s black-owned booksellers can be traced to the 1800s when African-American abolitionist, writer and publisher David Ruggles operated the nation’s first black-owned bookstore in New York, where he sold anti-slavery publications until a mob destroyed the store.
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