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People of color driving rise of independent bookstores

CHICAGO (WLS) — At Semicolon Bookstore & Gallery in Wicker Park, connection is key.

“We will usually let people browse for about 30 seconds before we come over and bother them with what they’re reading, what they’re looking for, how their day is going,” said Semicolon Bookstore & Gallery General Manger Nahin Cano.

That personal touch is one of the reasons why independent bookstore owners believe their shoppers keep coming back.

Javier Ramirez is one of the owners of the downtown bookstore Exile in Bookville.

“We want to create this sort of feeling of community in the bookstore,” he said.

The Regional Independent Booksellers Association, Midwest Independent Booksellers Association, and Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association, all grew their membership during the pandemic.

RELATED: Semicolon is a Black woman-owned bookstore in Chicago

Part of that has been driven by people of color and alternative business models, they said.

“We’ve seen in recent years, many new ways for stores to kind of enter the industry, examples include like starting as an online store, only starting as a pop-up shop, starting as a traveling bookstore, starting as a subscription service,” said Larry Law, the executive director of the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association.

Ramírez said he’s seen more diverse faces heading local bookstores than we started in the industry.

“When I first broke into the business 30 years ago it was hard for me to move ahead,” he said.

Cano said employees at the Black-owned bookstore take pride in highlighting authors of color.

“All the books are intentionally curated. Our booksellers pick every single book that you see in store,” Cano said.

Areli Diaz, a high school English teacher and mom, is a first-time Semicolon shopper. She said she appreciates the diversity of books.

“It was very inviting. The colors, the books, the selection of books, the variety,” Diaz said.

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