At last, a store for books, blacks

Wiley A. Hall 3rd

October 11, 1990|By Wiley A. Hall 3rd

"There are something like 110 stores at Mondawmin Mall," I wrote three years ago.

"There is a store that sells nothing but gold chains and a store that sells nothing but sunglasses. There are shoe stores and clothing stores and underwear stores and record stores. There are stores for video tapes and stores for toys. And there are lots and lots of sports stores.

"But," I noted in my 1987 column, "there is no bookstore at Mondawmin Mall."

Mondawmin, you see, is a mall with a predominantly black clientele. Sure, blacks will buy sunglasses and gold chains. And they'll take all the tennis shoes you can stock.

But books?

After all, the last store to try to peddle books at Mondawmin Mall gave up in despair nearly six years ago.

Nah, surely not books.

Well, Mondawmin Mall is still an urban mall and it still has a predominantly black clientele.

But, today, Mondawmin has a book store, a unique book store, a damned good book store, and there is a great deal of excitement about it.

The store is called Pyramid Books. It is owned by Hodari Abdul Ali, who owns five other such stores in the Washington area, and it specializes in books by, about and for people of African descent.

"We've only been open for two weeks and we haven't really done a big advertising push, and yet, so far business has been excellent," said Heru-Ka Anu, the store's manager.

This was yesterday, at about midday. I counted about eight customers in the store at the time, more than in the video store at the other end of the mall. While we spoke, several of the customers made purchases and left, and several new customers entered.

"So blacks will support a book store, then?" I asked.

"Absolutely," said Anu. "Especially if you cater to their interests. See, I used to work in Waldenbooks when it was here and their problem was, they didn't cater enough to black interests. Even then though, the biggest selling section of the store was the black section."

Anu lowered his voice.

"Let me tell you something," he said. "After our grand opening [tentatively scheduled for Nov. 3] and after we start advertising, project this store to be the biggest seller in the mall."

A book store?

"We have that hope as well," agreed Sonja Sanders, Mondawmin's manager of sales and marketing. "It's not based on statistics, you understand. But we have a feeling about the type of store it is and the type of store our customers want.

"We've been trying to get something like this at Mondawmin for a long, long time," Sanders continued. "This is something the community has been asking about, something they felt was needed, something they felt we were missing."

At Pyramid Books, you can find a host of black magazines, including Emerge, Essence, Ebony, Ebony's EM and Read 1, a magazine that features Muslim literature and writings.

There are the latest issues of Muhammad Speaks, the Final Call and Consumer Reports. (Consumer Reports, in my view, may well be the most important magazine on the list).

There are several handsome black-oriented calendars. There is a full rack of greeting cards for blacks. There is an aerobics videotape that features jazz, gospel and other music.

There are more black-oriented books for children there, frankly, than I ever knew existed, including a couple of Caldecott Award winners that I haven't seen anywhere else.

The store also has a "Fulani Doll," an educational toy that features a doll in an authentic West African costume. It has a board game centered around the East African region that includes Mount Kilimanjaro and picture puzzles with Egyptian themes.

In the social studies section, there are books such as "The Minority Executives Handbook." In the art section, there is a handsome, coffee-table size volume, "The Images of Blacks in Western Art." And, in the fiction section, there is a series of black romance novels.

The store even has several copies of Shahrazad Ali's notorious, "The Blackman's Guide to Understanding the Blackwoman." This is the book on male/female relationships about which everyone has an opinion but few have read.

Do you get the picture, yet?

Pyramid Books, Mondawmin Mall's first book store in six years, is a pretty awesome place -- exactly the kind of store Baltimore needs if it expects, someday, to become truly the city that reads.

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