With the prevalence of audiobooks and eReaders, it’s no secret that independent and even mega-bookstores are suffering as the readers reach for what is convenient.
Of course, there are several reasons why a local bookstore might close its doors, but we can all agree that when it happens, it’s the end of an era for the community.
Case in point: Carla Allison, the owner of the Reader’s Choice bookstore in Milwaukee, Wisconsin is retiring at the age of 74.
After almost three decades, Reader’s Choice shut down business on July 8 according to the Milwaukee Independent. But Reader’s Choice’s significance isn’t just in its longevity; it was the last remaining black-owned bookstore in the entire state of Wisconsin.
“My fondest memory of being here is putting the first books on the shelf the day we opened, in the knowledge that I’m going to serve the community,” Allison said. “This has been the work of mission for me. It is not a profit point, but a service to the community. I’m gratified and satisfied that we’ve done that for 28 years. So it’s bittersweet, but I’m ready to say bye.”
Reader’s Choice was embraced by the community and applauded for its diverse selection of African-American authored works. “Reader’s Choice has been embedded into the fabric of the community for more than a generation, and Ms. Allison’s commitment to literacy and promotion of African-American writers is unparalleled and will be sorely missed,” noted Milwaukee Alderwoman Milele A. Coggs.
Along with housing books by the greats (both well-known and lesser-known), the bookstore hosted book fairs, poetry sessions, community dialogues and author readings. Reader’s Choice held up the community by providing a platform for creators to start their public careers and by actively promoting literacy amongst children.
“I’ve seen a number of kids in here today and they are reading. That gives me hope for the future,” said Allison. “We have too many kids in their late teens and early twenties who are not reading. So when I see kids holding on tightly to a book, it makes my heart warm and I feel good for the future of Milwaukee.”
Though bittersweet, the closing event was one of celebration as community members shared personal memories in relation to just how much Reader’s Choice meant to them.
“You had a vision to be here on Dr. Martin Luther King Drive, and for you to be attached to Dr. King is a huge thing for African-American people. You and your husband have given your energy to build up so many people,” said Director of the Historic King Drive BID Deshea Agee in his address to Allison. “I have been so fortunate, on several occasions, to talk with you about my son and what books he should be reading. I feel touched that we had those conversations, and I appreciate you on behalf of myself and the MLK BID.”
“To see the community come back on this last day and express gratitude is surprising to me. It’s very heartfelt,” said Allison.
So, what’s next for Allison?
Well, it looks like her sights are set south, as she plans to move to Texas with her longtime husband, Robert.
The physical doors of Reader’s Choice may be closed, but she has opened up doors to literacy and community building that will live on forever.