CHARLOTTE, N.C. — There are only a handful of Black-owned bookstores in North Carolina.
For several years, Charlotte didn’t have any. A new store in the University area is now open and the owner says she wants this to be a place where people can come learn.
Sonyah Spencer started selling books online 20 years ago as a way to make some extra money in college. She says she noticed a market that was underrepresented.
“There was nobody selling African-American books. I reached out to Baker and Taylor, which is actually out of Charlotte, North Carolina, and I opened up an account,” Spencer said.
She says she wants to help expose people of all ages to minority authors.
“Children should see themselves at a young age,” she said. “That starts with the board books, all the way up to the chapter books and adult books.”
Spencer moved from online sales to a brick-and-mortar store in the old Eastland Mall. She says her store closed in 2006 after audiobooks and e-books took over the market.
She moved back to selling books online and at pop-up events, but still dreamed about opening another brick-and-mortar store. She says after calls for social justice echoed around the country in 2020, more people wanted to support authors of color. She opened the Urban Reader Bookstore in July 2021. She says the response has been overwhelming.
“I like the mixture of people that’s coming in. Some people are curious, and some people are advocates about it, and they’re really pushing to say ‘Hey, you know what? I want to tell my people, my family members,’ because everybody’s been traumatized,” Spencer said.
She says she is excited to create a new chapter in Charlotte and is ready to help rebuild the community.
“People that have questions, and they want to understand racism, and all the things that we’re going through in life, they can come in the store and we can talk about it,” she said.
Spencer says she is in the process of trying to lease the space next to her store as well. Her plan is to create a café and kids' play area if she’s able to expand her space.