Five bookstores breaking barriers
Check out these independent bookshops around the U.S. that highlight diverse voices and experiences.
While there’s no shortage of thought-provoking content at our fingertips today, walking into a brick-and-mortar bookstore and taking a book off a shelf offers a unique kind of magic.
There are the books themselves, of course — the physical pleasure of holding a story in your hands, of looking at the words and pictures on paper and feeling the weight of the object. But there’s something more in a bookstore. There’s the act of stepping into a third place, a community gathering space that’s purpose-built to celebrate ideas and conversation, art and life.
Entrepreneurs who are building businesses around books know that magic. Putting words and ideas in the hands of their communities and celebrating storytelling is a calling for bookstore owners. For some, that calling is specifically focused on introducing marginalized voices and ideas that don’t always make the shelves in the big box, mainstream stores.
Read on for a list of bookstores committed to breaking barriers by making a place for these voices and a space for conversation in their communities. If you’re looking to support your own local bookshop, check out the store locator at Bookshop.org, a platform that partners with independent bookstores to provide the tools to sell online.
1. Birchbark Books (Minneapolis, MN)
Founded by renowned author Louise Erdrich, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, Birchbark Books is a neighborhood bookstore and “a locus for Indigirati — literate Indigenous people who have survived over half a millennium on this continent.” The shop regularly sponsors readings by Native and non-Native writers, journalists, and historians, and it displays and sells the work of indigenous artisans alongside books for adults and children.
2. MahoganyBooks (Washington, D.C.)
Derrick and Ramunda Young founded MahoganyBooks as an online bookstore in 2007 to “meet the literary needs of readers nationwide in search of books written for, by, or about people of the African diaspora.” In 2017, the couple opened their first brick-and-mortar location in Washington, D.C., followed by a second physical location in Maryland in 2021. The founders have garnered national recognition for their business success and their commitment to community, and they experience deep, personal fulfillment from supporting young local readers through their Books for the Block program. Maybe most of all, they are proud of the passion for reading and entrepreneurship that the family business has instilled in their daughter, Mahogany.
3. Native Books (Honolulu, HI)
Founded by Maile Meyer in 1990 to “get good books in good hands,” Native Books is committed to sharing and lifting up the culture, language, and traditions of Hawaii and the Pacific Islands and deepening understanding of indigenous voices and experiences. The store also hosts author and community events and sells books online.
4. The Salt Eaters Bookshop (Inglewood, CA)
Asha Grant founded The Salt Eaters Bookshop in her hometown of Inglewood, CA to create a safe, inclusive community bookstore that would prioritize books, zines, and comics written and created by and about Black women and girls, femmes, and nonbinary people. Initially funded through a GoFundMe campaign (still live and contributing to ongoing operational costs), Asha opened the bookstore in December 2021, and today the shop sells on site and online and hosts readings, workshops, and book clubs.
5. Under the Umbrella Bookstore (Salt Lake City, UT)
Every book sold at Under the Umbrella Bookstore — across all genres and for readers of all ages — is either “queer in content and/or written by queer authors.” Founded by Kaitlyn Mahoney, the shop was launched to lift up and celebrate queer stories — a safe community gathering place for queer youth and adults in Salt Lake City. The shop hosts book clubs, provides space for community members to curate shelves, includes a gallery space that hosts the work of local queer artists, and partners with Libro.fm to provide complimentary audiobooks to educators and librarians among many other community-minded initiatives.