Written By: Jamie Hafner
On the sidewalks of Fishtown, Harriet’s Bookshop owner Jeannine Cook can be found bringing the store’s shelves of books and other goods outside on the weekends.
The Coronavirus outbreak has not stopped Cook’s mission; To celebrate female writers, activists, and artists while creating a space for dialogue and discussion.
“Our mission is slightly different now” Cook noted when discussing the adjustments her bookshop made to continue to serve customers, adding that, “We [Harriet’s Bookshop] took some lemons and made lemonade”.
Harriet’s Bookshop continues to serve the community every Thursday through Saturday, creating socially distant spaces for conversation and book-sharing in a Coronavirus-safe manner. The bookshop’s collection of books changes monthly, thanks to Cook’s monthly collaborations with different female artists who curate the shop’s book selection.
“This is the right thing for me, celebrating women,” Cook said, detailing that “For the most part, [I had] never been to a bookstore that celebrated women and black people. There was a void”.
Harriet's Bookshop is located on:
258 E Girard Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19125
Fellow Philadelphia bookstore owner, Lynn Washington, also noticed a void when serving as Design Studio Supervisor at the Free Library of Philadelphia in 2001.
“My job put me in the position to be acutely aware of the abysmal numbers of African-American children who were not able to read by third grade,” Washington remembers.
“My daughter learned to read by kindergarten, and I knew that that happened because I and her father talked, read and sang to her since she was a baby”.
Once Washington discovered that she could create her own bookselling business, she knew that she could make a difference in the lives of Philadelphia African-American children.
“My main objective was to get quality books and other educational items, such as puzzles, quiz cards, into the hands and homes of low-income parents, for themselves and their children”.
Now, Washington houses Philadelphia’s largest selection of Afrocentric Children’s Books at her bookshop, Books & Stuff.
Even though the pandemic has temporarily shut Books & Stuff’s doors, interested customers can still purchase books and merchandise online, including by purchasing new SURPRISE! packages.
“My daughter prompted the idea of "surprise" packages. Soon after I had to close, because of COVID-19, I began thinking about closing the shop for good. She encouraged me to refocus my efforts towards my website shop. My daughter suggested selling packages of books/gifts for children to have something to do, as summer was approaching” Washington stated.
Shoppers can select a price point and age range, allowing Books & Stuff to tailor the perfect package for each customer.
Books & Stuff is located on:
23 Maplewood Mall, Philadelphia, PA 19144
Across the city, Hakim’s Bookstore & Gift Shop continues to sell books online and has been able to safely open its doors to the public once more.
Opened in the mid-1950s by prominent black scholar, publisher, and speaker Dakum Hakim, Hakim’s Bookstore was one of the first bookstores in Philadelphia to carry books on African American history and culture as well as Islamic history and culture. Hakim was also one of the first to ship books to prison inmates.
Now operated by Hakim’s daughter, Yvonne Blake, the store continues to have an impact on the community.
“[Hakim’s Bookstore] is an institution. [The community] knew my dad. He did not have just a bookstore, it was a gathering place in the community. He was a force in the community” Blake described, adding that “My father left a great legacy. He was ahead of his time. Now more than ever I wish he was still alive”.
Since Hakim’s passing in 1997, the bookstore continues to thrive as it adapts to internet sales, social media, and even a global pandemic.
“We had 30 Online orders after the murder of George Floyd. Everyone wanted the same books” Blake said, citing “lots of orders from Portland, Oregon, Guam, including International Orders from London and Ireland”.
Readers from around the world can purchase books from Hakim’s online, and lucky Philadelphians can stop by the West Philadelphia location, even as people stay isolated during the Coronavirus outbreak.
Hakim's Bookstore & Gift Shop is located on:
210 S 52nd St, Philadelphia, PA 19139
No matter the obstacle, these Black-Owned Philadelphia bookstores continue to find ways to reach customers in times of uncertainty. Such inspiration comes from people like Dakum Hakim and the namesake of Harriet Bookshop’s, Harriet Tubman.
“Harriet exemplifies what is possible when you think about it. How was it possible for her to do all these things” Cook explained, adding that Tubman’s mission to better the lives of Black people helped her accomplish so much.
“That’s the power of a mission. Harriet has a north star and we have our mission. Harriet is our north star”.
Thanks for reading the PAC blog, where we share what's happening behind the scenes, what we're thinking about this week, and what classic stories are inspiring us right now.