By Tylan Nash
When walking into the Community Book Store, it’s almost as if you are stepping inside of a piece of Black History itself. On the back wall of the store, next to the window, you will find T-shirts, with themes and colors resembling those of African tribes. Hanging from another wall, there are paintings of local artists. In one corner towards the store back sits a shelf with strictly self-care items, shea butter jars in many different sizes, and African black soap and essential oils. Turn another corner, and there are rows and rows of books varying in size, color, and subject, but they have one thing in common: they’re all only written by Black authors. This wasn’t a feat that was done overnight, however. On Sept. 28th, the Black-owned, Bayou Road bookstore celebrated 30 years of service to the New Orleans community.
The Community Book Store was founded on Sept. 28, 1983, by Vera Warren-Williams, a New Orleans native, who started selling books in her trunk. It was started as a home-based community service, to provide educational materials to African-American students, so that they could see themselves represented in those materials. Coming from a family where doing social activism was the norm, giving back to her community was something that came natural to her.
“By going into the classrooms, I realized that there was a void. And so, I began bringing my own books from my own personal library into the schools, and it had a profound effect on the children,” Warren-Williams said. “Then people started to borrow my books, so that gave me an idea to order books and sell them, so people could have the same books that I have,” she said.
Warren-Williams has created a space within her bookstore, where people from all walks of life can come together and discuss things that are happening within their community. As soon as patrons walk in the door, she greets them with a hello and a smile. Her close friend from Howard University, Tina McLendon recounts how her friend always had a caring and loving personality.
“Even in college, she always had that giving part of her personality,” McLendon said, “she was always thinking about the community.”
The community where the building is located is along Bayou Road, a part of New Orleans where the streets are lined with other Black owned businesses. These entrepreneurs vary from owning restaurants to clothing stores. The bookstore has been at this location for more than 10 years and is something that Warren-Williams is very proud of.
“We’ve persevered through Katrina, and all of the other things that have come up since our conception,” Warren-Williams said.
“We’re more than a bookstore, we’re a gathering place,” Warren-Williams said, “people come and hang out, they talk.”
Local residents who come into the bookstore consider Warren-Williams like family, like Sonya Williams, who considers herself a regular, and loves coming to the bookstore and helps out around the store in her spare time.
“I come to the community book store a lot,” Williams said. “They host so many community events, and they create this sense of community I just love being around.”
Williams isn’t the only one who feels that way, dozens of residents visited the bookstore on its anniversary, interacting with other customers, as well as Warren-Williams.
“Helping Black children understand their self-worth will always be one of my greatest accomplishments,” Warren-Williams said.