A book store that offers more than books

By Anita Little

image‘Eso won’ is Yoruba for ‘water over rocks’ and symbolizes the reservoir of knowledge that the Eso Won Bookstore in Los Angeles provides. However, lately it has come to represent the troubled waters that Eso Won and other black bookstores across the nation are facing.

“We’ve had a lack of sales and have been struggling for a number of years,” said James Fugate, the co-owner and founder of Eso Won Books, a staple of the black community in Los Angeles that has faced a decline in revenue.

The recent closure of Karibu Books was the death knell for black bookstores as it was the nation’s largest black bookstores chain with six locations in Maryland and Virginia. The untimely end of Karibu is a story being played out coast to coast as large mainstream chains and internet book selling take over.

Becoming the Starbucks of the book-selling industry, Barnes and Noble and Borders have become the go-to place for books, leaving independent bookstores coughing in the dust.

“Barnes and Noble didn’t use to be a major issue, but now their stock of black literature has grown,” said Fugate. “On top of that if a person can go online and pay less, that’s what they’re going to do even if they want to support you. That’s the death nail.”

Another problem plaguing black bookstores is the stigma attached to black novelists that all they write about is hardship and oppression. Part of saving black bookstores is convincing black readers that there are black novels that bare relevance to their lives.

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Image courtesy of Eso Won Books

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