How The Last Of Black-Owned Philly Bookstores Are Planning For A Bright Future

Bookstores for the culture!

Photo Credit: Photo: Geneva Heffernan/The Philadelphia Inquirer

| December 30 2017,

9:18 pm

With the advent of eReaders like Nook and Kindle as well as services like Audible, bookstores are struggling to keep afloat. In Philadelphia, in particular, the last few black-owned bookstores in existence are searching for ways to stay alive. 

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Hakim’s Bookstore, Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee & Books and Black and Nobel are now among the last few black-owned bookstores throughout the Philly area. 

University of Baltimore professor Joshua Clark Davis told the paper that although there were about 150 black-owned bookstores in the U.S. in the early 2000s, that number dropped to about 50 by 2012.

Fortunately, however, in 2017, that number rose to about 70.

Black and Nobel owner Hakim Hopkins created a GoFundMe to save his store after he came close to having to close it earlier this year. It was successful, raising almost $10,000, and was a springboard for publishing a book of his own, a children's graphic book entitled, The King of Mali: Rise of Mansa Musa.

In addition to being a place to purchase books, Black and Nobel is something of a community center, serving as a safe space for young rap artists to perform and local entrepreneurs to display their products.

Hakim's Bookstore is a classic Philly staple, founded by Dawud Hakim in 1959. Now the store is evolving to fit with the current culture. “I finally got a website about three months ago,” said Hakim's daughter, Yvonne Blake. Blake has launched a GoFundMe of her own, and has partnered with younger members of the community to attract what one partner calls "the next generation of readers and leaders."

Celebrity and Temple University professor Marc Lamont Hill recently opened up his own store, Uncle Bobbie's Coffee & Books. 

“[Hill’s] store, along with the opening of at least seven new black-owned independents this year, is a very positive sign,” Troy D. Johnson, president and founder of African American Literature Book Club, told the Inquirer. “As Amazon becomes a near monopoly for online book sales and ebooks, they are certainly having an adverse impact on not just black independents, but all booksellers online and brick and mortar."

Despite this, Hopkins said, “We’re still here,” and argued that bookstores are still important today.

“Anybody who owns a bookstore should be considered an asset to the community and not a contributor to racial strife,” Hakim said, “Because books are here to inform people.”