BALDWIN HILLS — When the coronavirus hit last March and people were mandated to shelter in place, Malik Books, an independent, black-owned bookstore located in the heart of the black community on the second floor of the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, had to close its doors just like most businesses.
Malik and April Muhammad worried like every other business owner about the toll the closure would ultimately take on their business.
It turns out their worries were for naught, as the customers who could no longer come to the store physically, began to buy books at a rapid pace from their website.
Since it reopened on June 15, April Muhammad, 46, said the foot traffic and the web traffic continues to grow. The demand for all kinds of books, especially those on race, have become very popular. Reportedly, Black bookstores are experiencing renewed popularity across the country.
The Muhammads have been stocking their shelves with books by, for, and about black people for decades. In the last couple of weeks, the popularity of the business has amplified.
Malik Books, which normally caters to Black readers, has seen an increase in white patrons who now make up half of the store’s customers. Coming from as far away as the San Fernando Valley, many are outraged by what they have seen on television regarding Black people and the police and are seeking answers to the puzzling questions swirling around this turbulent moment in history.
I recently spoke to April Muhammad, who understands the surge in book buying. The married, mother of Mecca and Zahir, who is also a registered nurse is encouraged, like her husband of 15 years, about the future of their cozy bookstore that also sells culturally diverse shower curtains, gift cards, calendars, aprons, tote bags, puzzles, pencils, cups, backpacks, and coffee mugs.
DD: Since you reopened, what has changed to keep people safe?
AM: This time is dangerous. We have the six-foot and mask rule. We have the thermometer. We use the ultraviolet wand. We wipe down surfaces all the time.
DD: Are people complaining about having to wear a mask?
AM: No, not one.
DD: While you were closed, people were protesting. In fact, they are still protesting.
AM: The people want to be heard. They are tired and they are mad and you’re going to listen. They are protesting with their voice. What other way can I get your attention? In broad daylight, they are murdering people.
DD: How has Malik Books survived the coronavirus quarantine?
AM: We were closed for three months. It hurt us, but we continued to make progress. We survived because people are fed up and want to have knowledge of self. Due to George Floyd’s death, people want to educate themselves about us as people. People want to get knowledge through literacy. We give a person the opportunity to not only have a conversation with us, but do research on their own. We survived because people went to the website to order their books.
DD: Have you seen a surge of any kind? It looks like people can’t get enough of reading about race.
AM: Yes, the first week we opened, we had so many people coming in. The website was flooded with orders We had reoccurring customers who were happy to see us reopen. Since we had to quarantine, people are reading.
DD: What are they reading? Are books on race, racism, and antiracism popular now? If not, what’s popular?
AM: Yes, books on race are very popular now. People are reading “The New Jim Crow, How To Be An Antiracist.” That book hits all points. They are also reading “White Fragility and The 1% Rule: How To Fall In Love With The Process and Achieve Your Wildest Dreams.” “The Alchemist” has been flying off the shelves. All of those books hold different values. I’m reading “The Alchemist” again myself for the second time. Every five years your mind shifts. You see something you didn’t see before.
DD: What percentage of your business comes from white patrons? To what do you attribute that number?
AM: Right now it’s about 50/50. Before COVID-19 it was 10%.
DD: To what do you attribute the shift? Are people ready to have those hard conversations about race?
AM: Some are. When they come in, they tell us, ‘We are doing a book run.’ We ask how they heard about us? They say social media. They want to support Black businesses, including Black bookstores.
DD: What books are they buying?
AM: “White Fragility,” “How to Be Antiracist,” “The New Jim Crow,” “Our Time Is Now,” and “What They Never Told You In History Class.” They are buying a little bit of everything.
DD: Did you have to do anything to regain your customers?
AM: No. Our customers are the best. They were waiting for us. We got calls for books. We decided to deliver the books ourselves. Our kids would package the books. We would get in the car and deliver them ourselves. It’s an admiration that goes both ways.
DD: Do you have children’s books?
AM: We have the biggest children’s book section of any bookstore in California.
DD: What titles do you carry?
AM: We have wonderful titles like “Love Yourself,” “I Am Enough,” “Young, Gifted And Black,” “Did I Tell You I Love You Today?” and “Hair Love.” There’s a lot to choose from. We as people have always understood that confidence is bred in a child. Children are excited to still read. Kids come in and they are happy to skim through the books.
DD: Why do you carry a big children’s section?
AM: Knowledge of self and confidence starts when you’re a child. Be confident in yourself. When you do, you become a confident adult.
DD: Why did you pick Leimert Park as a destination?
AM: We needed it. It’s about us. I needed to be around the people who look like me. No need to go somewhere else and help somewhere else. This is the perfect place for us. No need to go outside the community. We need literacy. We need to educate them on how to be a strong man and woman.
DD: What is the best part about being in Leimert Park?
AM: To see the joy of my people to see me. It’s a reflection of my mirror. When I can see me every day striving to be better.
DD: When deciding to open a business, was it always going to be a bookstore?
AM: Always. Your relationship started with books when you had to go to school. My relationship started that way as well. I leisurely began to read books when I was in my 20s. My mindset was different then. I read “The Sacred Woman.” I read it now and I see things differently. In my 20s, I could actually see what I was reading. I love books that way. You begin reading because you have to and then it’s for leisure. Having to, and doing it for leisure are two different things.
DD: Why is a Black bookstore important?
AM: When we go into other bookstores there is a fraction of information. With Black bookstores, we give our stories.
DD: What is the biggest seller in the store?
AM: It’s what we call our Nipsey Table, named after Nipsey Hussle. We provide what we call our Nipsey Pack: Do For Self, filled with books that Nipsey read. Inside we have “Powernomics,” “Message to the Black Man,” “The Art of War” and “48 Laws of Power.” When someone purchases the pack, 10% of the purchase goes to youth education. The pack sells for $99.
DD: At one time, the mall was going to be sold. Were you prepared for that? Had you come up with a new location?
AM: We were not prepared to relocate. Eventually, we would have had to look for another location in the community.
DD: When you heard the mall was not being sold, what was your initial reaction?
AM: Thank you, this is wonderful. Let’s proceed to grow.