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One of the Country’s Oldest Black-Owned Bookstores Is Set to Close After Three Decades

One of the country’s oldest Black-owned bookstores is shutting its doors. Independent, Black-owned bookstore Eso Won Books has been a fixture on the Los Angeles book scene for more than 33 years. Its owners have announced it will close by the end of 2022.

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James Fugate is the co-founder of Eso Won books (Photo: Facebook)

“It’s coming to an end at the end of this year,” co-owner James Fugate said during an appearance on Tavis Smiley’s June 7 KBLA podcast after sharing a summer reading list of African-American authors. 

Many Black authors got their start by presenting readings at the store. In 1995, a not-yet-famous Sen. Barack Obama presented his autobiography “Dreams From My Father” to an Eso Won audience of five people, reported Publisher’s Weekly, which named Eso Won Bookstore of the Year in 2021.

Fugate co-owns Eso Won with Tom Hamilton, and “fully our plan is to say that we are done at the end of this year,” Fugate told Publisher’s Weekly. “I’m 67, and Tom is 68. I’ve been in the book business since 1980, when Reagan was elected president. Both of us are sort of tired of going in to work every day, even if it’s only four hours” in person, and “neither of us have had a vacation in over two years.”

Fugate and Hamilton are the sole staffers of the 1,800-square-foot store and online site. 

It is not sure if Eso Won, which was founded in the 1980s, will retain its online retail presence. “We’re going to explore that — I didn’t want to be final,” said Fugate. “Tom says he wants to totally leave it.”

There are less than 200 Black-owned bookstores in the U.S., according to Oprah.com. While many of these businesses were hard hit by the pandemic, as were Black businesses in general, some reported a pickup in business following the police killing of George Floyd in May 2020. That surge in business has since subsided.

Sales of books about race and discrimination are down by 25 percent since the middle of last year, Kristen McLean at the consumer research firm The NPD Group told Marketplace.

Eso Won Books has dedicated itself as a hub for the Black community to celebrate its culture through written works. They are known to house a wide array of books on anything related to Black history, even those that are rare to find.

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