An Urban Bookstore In Philly Finds Its Niche
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And there's a bookstore in Philadelphia which appeals to men and women in the inner city. Even in the recession this bookseller is flourishing, because it offers books other stores don't carry to customers who don't consider themselves avid readers.
Jamila Trindle takes us there.
JAMILA TRINDLE: The first thing you see when you come to the door of Black and Nobel is a whole wall of urban fiction books, covers facing out displaying their titles.
Mr. HAKIM HOPKINS (Owner, Black and Nobel): "Pitbulls in a Skirt," "Poison I and II." "HellRaiser Honeys."
TRINDLE: These are gritty, explicit tales that involve drugs, crime, and violence set in urban neighborhoods like the one surrounding this bookstore. These books have become Black and Nobel's specialty, and many of them are written an even self-published by people who live in Philadelphia.
Malik Rashid(ph) explains the genre's popularity.
Mr. MALIK RASHID: Especially in an urban community - black, white, Hispanic, whatever - if you grew up in a so-called ghetto, you can relate to most of these stories because you've seen them or you've heard about them or you experienced them maybe yourself.
TRINDLE: Rashid is in the bookstore promoting his wife's book, "Love, Lies and Betrayal," in which he says they toned down the sex and violence in hopes of reaching a broader audience.
Black and Nobel works directly with authors and publishers like the Rashids, selling their books and also wholesaling them to other book vendors, which allow them to offer discounts. Other independent booksellers cannot.
Owner Hakim Hopkins says urban fiction has blown up over the last few years, following the trend of hip-hop music.
Mr. HOPKINS: That's why we're a different kind of bookstore. We have a hip-hop swag to the books and that's the way to, you know, reel the youth in versus just having a traditional bookstore where only avid readers come in. We want to change it, where non-readers come in.
TRINDLE: People like Tamika White(ph).
Ms. TAMIKA WHITE: Well, actually, I wasn't into books, so one of the girls I worked with gave me "A Hustler's Worst Nightmare," and I couldn't put it down. So I was like, where you get your books from? She was like, down there on Broad and Erie. I'm like, there's a bookstore down there?
TRINDLE: White says she prefers coming here to the big bookstores downtown.
Ms. WHITE: You have to ask for a black section or novels. You know, here I can come in and the books is right here, so I don't have to search to find what I want.
TRINDLE: White has lived in Philly her whole life, so reading about the city captivated her.
Ms. WHITE: It just drew to me to that book. And then I met the author and she signed my book and it was really nice.
TRINDLE: Hopkins says he loves watching people like White come around to reading.
Mr. HOPKINS: You get people to read the books and you start to see them change from reading the books, and that means something to me; it touches me. So to actually see somebody that would never pick up a book or say to me, I haven't picked up a book since the 8th grade, and this is somebody that's grown.
TRINDLE: Turning those reluctant readers into bookstore customers sounds like a tough sell, but it's one that's kept Black and Nobel in business now for seven years.
Mr. HOPKINS: Yeah, we had it since Monday. We got plenty, so come on down.
TRINDLE: For NPR News, I'm Jamila Trindle in Philadelphia.
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