One of the few remaining Black-owned bookstores in Chicago will close in August due to low sales.
“The last year has not been good for us as far as customers. It is with much regret that I complete the process of closing our doors after 18 years of service to the Black community,” said Desiree Sanders, 41, founder and president of Afrocentric Bookstore, 4655 S. King Drive. “I know by closing I am leaving a void in the Black community but the economics to stay open just aren’t there anymore.” She added that previously, Afrocentric, which was founded in 1990, was located downtown at the DePaul Center, 1 E. Jackson Blvd., but was forced out in 2003 to make way for Barnes & Noble, a bookstore chain. “When we were downtown, we made much more, but the more popular Barnes & Noble was looking for a spot right around the time our lease was expiring,” Sanders said. And because location is a vital part of the success of retail businesses, incuding bookstores, Sanders said she thought the Bronzeville location would suit her business well. “We are located across the street from the Harold Washington Cultural Center, and I had anticipated getting a lot of business from people attending events at the Harold Washington Center, but few events have taken place there since it opened,” she said. “Foot traffic the first couple of years was fine, but by 2007, we saw fewer customers.” Community residents said they are sad to see the bookstore close but glad it will still have a Web presence. “I went there all the time when I wanted to buy a good book to read or give away as a present,” said Paris Porter, 34, a Bronzeville resident. “There aren’t too many Black bookstores left in Chicago so anytime one closes, it’s a big deal.” Kevin Collier, 42, lives in the North Lawndale community on the West Side but visits his mom in Bronzeville’s neighboring Hyde Park community every weekend. “The Black community should not stand for this store closing because the white-owned bookstores have a limited supply of books by Black authors,” he said. “Everybody don’t read Toni Morrison or Omar Hutchinson. White-owned bookstores like Borders generally carry popular Black authors only.” Sanders said, for her part, she would continue working with authors to promote their books in Chicago. “It’s easy to rent space for a day to hold an event so I will still have a presence here in Chicago, I just won’t have a store you can come to, that’s all,” Sanders told the Defender. Three employees work at Afrocentric, and Sanders said unfortunately they would all lose their jobs. Her lease does not expire until 2009, and she has already stopped paying rent. The landlord is East Lake Management and Development Corp., a Black-owned real estate company in Chicago founded by Elzie Higginbottom. “Mr. Higginbottom has been really good to me. He is very understandable although I know he is not happy with me right now because I can no longer afford the rent,” Sanders said. Elzie Higginbottom did not return phone calls by press time. And while she explored the possibility of relocating elsewhere, in the end, Sanders said costs outweighed that option. For now she said she would concentrate on retiring the debt she has accumulated and turn Afrocentric into an online bookstore. Beginning in August, Sanders said customers can log on to www.afrobookstore.com to place orders or they can e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Everything at Afrocentric is currently 50 to 70 percent off so Sanders said she hopes the Black community will help close her out with a bang. Closed Sundays and Mondays, Afrocentric is open Tuesday through Friday, 1 p.m.-6:30 p.m., and Saturday from noon-6:30 p.m. A number of Black bookstores have shifted to a Web-only presence such as African American Images. The Black-owned publishing company, which also had a bookstore at 1909 W. 95th St., closed its stores and is now selling online at africanamericanimages.com. Other Black-owned bookstores in Chicago include Frontline, 5206 S. Harper, and The Underground, 1727 E. 87th St.
Wendell Hutson can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.
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