Café con Libros. Photo: Daniel Harel
Independent bookstores are an integral part of New York City’s culture. Black-owned bookshops play an important role in this, representing their local communities and promoting Black stories of all kinds. During the summer of 2020, support for and then, unsurprisingly, died down several months later. With the ongoing challenges the pandemic has presented, it is more important than ever for consumers to support these shops. Read on to learn about four such businesses—one of which even opened during the pandemic.
53 Bridge St., Dumbo, Brooklyn
Located in the waterfront neighborhood of Dumbo, Adanne is bright, airy, warm and welcoming. The owner, Darlene Okpo, opened the store in May 2021, titling it after her mother’s nickname (which means “she is her mother’s daughter” in Igbo, a Benue-Congo language of Nigeria). The store celebrates African American culture by showcasing an array of items created by Black people, such as books, artwork and accessories. Adanne is visually appealing; wherever you turn, there’s something beautiful to look at. Prior to opening the bookstore, Okpo created a fashion brand, William Okpo, with her sister, Lizzy. Okpo was an avid reader from a young age and was later inspired to open Adanne as a resource for the Black community, for “.”
Café con Libros. Photo: Daniel Harel
724 Prospect Pl., Crown Heights, Brooklyn
When Kalima DeSuze opened Café con Libros in Crown Heights, where she grew up, she wanted to create a space that was unapologetically feminist. Desuze has said that Black feminism saved her life, and that spirit is reflected on the front of the bookstore by signage that reads, “Black, Feminist & Bookish.” As the daughter of immigrants, she chose the name Café con Libros (“Coffee with Books”)—a play on the popular drink café con leche—to reflect her Panamanian roots. The shop focuses on feminist books and on authors who are women of color. Aside from being a bookstore, it’s also a coffee shop, so you can get your caffeine fix and pick up a pastry or two while you browse.
The Lit. Bar. Photo: Simbarashe Cha
131 Alexander Ave., Mott Haven, Bronx
The Lit. Bar is the only indie bookstore in the Bronx. The owner, Noëlle Santos, an Afro-Latina native of the Bronx, decided to open her own place after the local Barnes & Noble shut down. She started a crowdfunding campaign called “Let’s Bring a Goddamn Bookstore to the Bronx” to help achieve her goals. The store is expansive, displaying books in categories like “Bronx Tales” and “Where Black Women & Feminism Intersect.” A beautiful mural, depicting a young Black girl holding a book, greets you as you enter the store. Toward the back is an impressive bar—with books providing its support—where, before the pandemic began, patrons could pull up for a drink (there’s no date yet for when it will reopen). The Lit. Bar has hosted NYC-born celebrities such as Jennifer Lopez and Carmelo Anthony, and has been featured in a campaign for Valentino.
Courtesy, Sister’s Uptown Bookstore
1942 Amsterdam Ave., Washington Heights, Manhattan
Sister’s Uptown is a family-owned and -operated bookstore and community center in Washington Heights. When Janifer Wilson, the mom in the mother-daughter team that runs it, wanted to open a bookstore, she was warned she wouldn’t succeed—even being told “.” She proved doubters wrong by maintaining this labor of love, which has become a community staple over the past two decades. When Wilson was growing up, she didn’t see anyone that looked like her in books. She wanted to open a bookstore to “.” The place feels welcoming when you step inside and gets its sense of community in part from the small groups of people seated and chatting inside. The shop focuses on books by African American and independent authors while also offering jewelry by Black artists, as well as rare copies of classic Black magazines such as Ebony and Essence.