I’m Troy Johnson the founder and webmaster of this site, the oldest website dedicated to books by or about people of African descent. I have visited a wide variety of bookstores across the country. Whenever I visit a new city I try to visit an indie bookstore.
Here are my 10 Favorite Black-owned bookstores in the United States. Take it for granted that the owners and staff are knowledgeable about Black books and are driven to serve Black people by exposing them to books they need to read and will enjoy.
I’ve visited each of these stores and have learned something important or enjoyed a wonderful event at all of them. When you visit, you’re virtually guaranteed to discover a great read — even as a bookseller I always do. Here is my list, in no particular order:
Eso Won Bookstore
4327 Degnan Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90008
Owner/Proprietor: James Fugate and Thomas Hamilton
Phone: (323) 290-1048
Opened in: 1990
This iconic bookstore, located in the historic Leimert Park neighborhood of South Los Angeles, is the go to store for authors. The store has hosted readings for President Obama and many of the most significant authors our generation. The first time I visited Esowon was during the Leimert Park Village Book Fair, which is perhaps the premier Black book festival held in the country and located steps from the store.
3900 Martin Luther King Jr. Way
Oakland, CA 94609
Owner/Proprietor: Johnson Family
Phone: (510) 652-2344
Opened in: 1960
When you enter the store you can help but be struck by the density of Black Books. You are as likely to find an older gem as you are a newly published book. There is no café and no soft seating for casual readers to lounge, this is a pure bookstore. The bookstore is packed with books covering Black history and culture. One easily understand why the Black Panther Party originated in Oakland. Marcus Books, one of the Nation’s oldest bookstores, helped develop “woke” people long before it was a social media hashtag. Ask to see the old printing press. Marcus is easily in my top 5 (others would include Bookophilia in Kingston, Jamaica, or the Jazz Hole in Lagos, Nigeria, but this list of limited to American bookstores.
2814 35th Street
Sacramento, CA 95817
Owner/Proprietor: Georgia “Mother Rose” West
Opened in: 2002
Underground Books is a modern, airy, and inviting store. Situated between a theater and coffee shop it is the hub of the Oak Park community. This store is also a main attraction and venue during the Sacramento Black Book Fair. “Mother Rose,” the engaging proprietor makes you feel right at home. She is also the mother of former Sacramento Mayor and NBA Star, Kevin Johnson
1231 Good Hope Rd SE
Washington, DC 20020
Owner/Proprietor: Derrick and Ramunda Young
Opened in: 2017
MahoganyBooks may have opened this store in 2017, but they have been selling books on the web for over a decade, so they have you covered both online and off. I consider the owners, Derrick and Ramunda Young, friends. While that may make somewhat biased, it also makes me knowlegeable about their love of Black people and their literature.
Sankofa Video Books & Cafe
2714 Georgia Ave.,NW
Washington, DC 20001
Owner/Proprietor: Shirikiana Gerima
Opened in: 1982
I have not visited this store in at least 15 years, but I’ve have attended a conversation with Walter Mosley and Paul Coates, which they hosted in 2018. Sankofa is one the oldest stores in the country and, after more than three decades in existence, has become an important cultural institution in Washington, DC. Currently they are battling an outrageous property tax increase that poses an existential threat to the store.
Medu Bookstore, Greenbriar Mall
2841 Greenbriar Parkway
Atlanta, GA 30331
Owner/Proprietor: Nia Damali
Opened in: 1989
Medu is the only reason I’d go into the Greenbriar mall &mash; and it is worth the trip. Medu is a book lover’s store; it is not a large store, but it is full of books and related cultural products. The last time I encountered Medu was during the National Book Club Conference in 2018, where they official bookseller for the event. Medu is one of the top bookstores in the southeast.
245 N. U.S. Highway 17-92
Longwood, FL 32750
Owner/Proprietor: Desmond A. Reid
Opened in: 1982
Dare Books relocated from Brooklyn, NY to Longwood, Fl few years ago. I visited both locations. With almost 40 years of experience, the owner, Desmond Reid, is one the most knowledgeable people I know in the business of Black books. He has a historical perspective matched by few and experience in all aspects of the book business. Dare Books is also the publisher of the 9-time AALBC Bestselling book, The Black Mother Goose which has sold over 100K copies!
Sister’s Uptown Bookstore
1942 Amsterdam Avenue (at 156th Street)
New York, NY 10032
Owner/Proprietor: Janifer P. Wilson
Opened in: 2000
Located in the Washington Heights neighborhood of northern Manhattan, I considered Sister’s Uptown my neighborhood bookstore when lived in Harlem. It is, incredibly, the only Black-Owned bookstore in all of Manhattan! Medu has been the official bookseller for the National Black Writers Conference and will celebrate 40 years in business in 2020!
The Lit. Bar
131 Alexander Avenue (btwn 134th St. & Bruckner Blvd)
Bronx, NY 10454
Owner/Proprietor: Noëlle Santos
Phone: (347) 955-3610
Opened in: 2019
The Lit. Bar, the newest store on my list of favs benefited from tremendous amount of media coverage a couple of years before opening, and have lived up to the hype. I visited the store for the first time only a few months ago to attend a standing-room-only reading given my Nicole Dennis-Benn. The store is situated the Mott Haven section of the Bronx which is undergoing a dramatic revitalization. The store also hosts a wine bar, which makes it somewhat unique.
Hakim’s Bookstore and Gift Shop
210 S 52nd St
Philadelphia, PA 19139
Phone: (215) 474-9495
Opened in: 1959
I’ve actually never been inside this store. I’ve only peeked inside the window from the outside (the store hours on my own list were incorrect at the tome of my visit). Despite never having set foot in the store, I felt this list would be lacking if the oldest Black owned bookstore1, in the country, was not included. In fact, Hakim’s may be one of the oldest continuously operated Black-owned bookstores on Earth!2
I could have easily included a more stores, but forced myself to restrict my favorites to 10. What is you favorite Black-owned bookstore? Please give it some shine in the comments section below.
Bookstore owners:Is your store missing from our list of Black-owned Bookstores, or contains information that needs updating, please complete this form and we’ll update our website.
1To the bnest of my knowledge, Hakim’s Bookstore, is the oldest Black owned bookstore in the U.S.
2To the best of my knowledge, Présence Africaine, based in Paris, France, opened in 1949, and is the oldest Black-owned bookstore in the world.
If you are aware of any factual errors (especially regarding the oldest bookstores) please enter them in the comments section below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.