Bookstore tourism has become a huge factor in the survival of Black-owned independently owned bookstores. It was important to their growth before the pandemic and their survival throughout it. Visiting Black-owned brick and mortar stores also benefit a city’s tourism efforts as restaurants, hotels, related attractions and retail sales tend to be boosted with travelers. Plus, bookstores are important hubs of information and for understanding local culture.
The three bookstores selected: Charlotte NC’s Urban Reader, Turning Page Bookshop in greater-Charleston, and Baldwin & Co., New Orleans have unique stories and services that not only deserve a high-five but also a stop-by when visiting the communities they serve. Urban Reader and Baldwin & Co. opened during the pandemic. Turning Page is the only Black-owned brick and mortar bookstore in South Carolina, while Urban Reader is the only Black-owned bookstore in Charlotte. All three benefited from an increase in interest in Black subject and authored books that resulted in increased online sales. But these are also bookstores destined to win based on the business savvy of their owners.
Turning Page Bookshop in Goose Creek, SC is 25 miles from Charleston but it is also the only Black brick and mortar bookstore in the entire state. Owner VaLinda Miller greets visitors from neighboring communities, Charleston and from out-of-state. Though born and raised in Washington, DC, she is one of Charleston’s biggest cheerleaders and ambassadors. Drive to Turning Page and while there, she will direct you to eat at heritage restaurants Bertha’s Kitchen in North Charleston and Gail’s Soul Food in Goose Creek. The Lost Stories of Black Charleston Walking Tours, Downtown Charleston, can take you to Mother Emanuel A.M. E. Church and Gullah Tours by Alphonso Brown has a number of stops, including The Philip Simmons House , home of Black wrought-iron artisan Philip Simmons. The International African American Museum opens in late 2022, in the meantime, you can follow events they have with community partners off-site and online. The Old Slave Mart Museum is the first African-American slave museum. It is often staffed by individuals who can trace their history to Charleston slaves. Visit Mount Pleasant SC for sweetgrass baskets and other Gullah-Geechee heritage crafts.
Urban Reader in Charlotte, NC is the city’s only brick and mortar Black-owned bookstore. Located in the University City section of Charlotte, the bookstore is about 15 minutes from the HBCU Johnson C. Smith, and twenty minutes to the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts. There are two “slave” cemeteries in Charlotte: McCoy at St. Mark’s Episcopal and W. T. Alexander near UNCC. The Excelsior Club, the city’s premier African American social club and a favorite place for civil rights activists to meet during the 1950s and 1960s. Urban Reader’s owner, Sonyah Spencer, recommends Romeo’s Vegan Burgers a new restaurant that began as a popular food truck in Charlotte. And from spring into winter, there are a number of Black food events, including Black Food Truck Friday and Charlotte Black Restaurant Week.
Baldwin & Co. boasts of floor to ceiling book shelves and plenty of seating. But they also are a coffee house, which will make the visit even more enjoyable. You will find the hospitality in the bookstore and outside of it. New Orleans’ cultural history is legend and beautiful. For example, you can visit the New Orleans African American Museum. Or if history is your thing, Tours by Judy will be delightful. You can tour the oldest Black neighborhood in New Orleans with Treme & Mardi Gras Indian Cultural Tours. New Orleans is one of the few cities in the country to have Black-owned restaurants that are generations-old, such as Dooky Chase, Lil’ Dizzy’s Café, The Munch Factory and Willie Mae’s Scotch House.
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