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Black booksellers question anointment of Tattered Cover as ‘US’s biggest Black-owned bookstore.’

Jonny Diamond

December 11, 2020, 12:21pm

Colorado bookstore chain Tattered Cover has been acquired by an investment group that includes Kwame Spearman, who is Black, an arrangement that has led to more than a few stories referring to Tattered Cover as “the largest Black-owned bookstore in America.” This is not sitting well with Black booksellers across the country.

As this thoroughly reported Publishers Weekly article outlines, for many booksellers, the idea of a “Black-owned bookstore” is about a lot more than just money.

At Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee & Books in Philadelphia, manager Justin Moore said he was reluctant to blame the new owners, but was deeply concerned about the messaging and subsequent media coverage of the purchase. “Being a Black-owned bookstore is more than just whose name is on the ownership papers,” Moore said. “Just a simple transfer of ownership doesn’t automatically qualify you to be a Black-owned bookstore in the same way that almost every Black-owned bookstore in the country operates.”

Echoing that sentiment is Loyalty Bookstore owner Hanna Oliver Depp:

“If this is going to be a genuinely Black-owned bookstore, meaning a stem to stern, top to bottom adjustment of core values and business practices to not just be Black-friendly, but infused with Black culture—our ethics, morals—I would be jazzed out of my mind.”

Tattered Cover is not having a great year, publicity-wise: at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests this past summer they released a wearyingly tone-deaf open letter that seemed to use free speech as cover for the kind of neutrality that only serves to reinforce the status quo.

[Via Publishers Weekly.]

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