As small businesses deal with a drop in sales caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, one bookstore on Bathurst Street in Toronto is working to stay on top of a recent spike.
“Books dealing with racism, dealing with inequity, dealing with poverty and oppression and generally dealing with examining the system of inequality,” said co-owner Miguel San Vicente, describing some of the high-demand books at A Different Booklist.
He and his wife, children’s author Itah Sadu, have co-owned the store for the last 25 years.
Since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody on May 25, San Vicente said there has been huge demand for anti-Black racism titles, books by Black Canadian authors and works on Black history.
“They’re looking to get more informed, understand what’s going on in a deeper way and looking to see what solutions they can bring to the table,” he said.
“In order to achieve change we need to study history, and we need to study the experience of Black folks in the hundreds of years of resistance and what that has taught them and what that has taught society.”
A Different Booklist is a multicultural bookstore, specializing in works from the African Caribbean Diaspora and the Global South.
Even with support from the Black community, though, the couple has encountered challenges over the years.
“We’re in a constant battle to assert ourselves and to be respected,” he said.
“Our experience has shown if you go to the bank for a loan, it’s harder for us to get a loan. If we deal with major suppliers and so on, we have to force our way into the doors to get attention … we had to insist at times to get a sales rep to come and visit us,” he added.
The bookstore is unlike any other, and has become a hub for the Black community.
“Coming back here has been a way to really strengthen that part of my identity, but also really connect with people in my community through readings, meeting authors, community events,” said volunteer Andrea Williams.
She remembers, as one of the few Black children in her classroom, receiving a visit at school by Itah Sadu and feeling a connection.
Here was someone who looked like her, she recalled.
Williams would often visit the bookstore during her childhood and now, in adulthood, aims to give back.
“It’s really important to continue to uplift and support these initiatives and these businesses, especially when we’re seeing there’s a great ask for it now … we’re seeing a rise in demand for Black authors and Black voices,” said Williams.
As she organized book orders for delivery, she listed off a few of the top sellers at the store right now.
“Policing Black Lives by Robyn Maynard, The Skin We’re In by Desmond Cole, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria by Beverly Daniel Tatum and Black Writers Matter by Whitney French,” she said.
San Vicente said he receives many phone calls from people asking for recommendations on how to introduce their children to the topic of racism.
“I think people decided we need something more fundamental, we need something more to understand that this is a system where there is entrenched racism — where there is entrenched white superiority,” he said.