Walking into the BLK + BRWN bookstore on 39th Street nestled between a braiding salon and barbershop, feels just like walking into an art gallery.
The bookstore, which features books exclusively by Black and Brown authors, does not have a typical bookstore organization system. Unlike most bookstores, the books are not alphabetized or organized by genre, which forces guests to walk through and look at each of the different covers.
“I wanted Black and Brown people to feel like our stories are also valuable,” said Cori Smith, founder and owner of BLK + BRWN. “Our stories are like art to me. The covers tell our stories. They’re valuable, they’re pristine.”
Smith’s intent was for books in the store to feel rare and pristine, like art in a museum.
An avid reader since she was a child, Smith wanted to open a book store that amplified the Black and Brown authors she read growing up that had an impact on her life. She opened BLK + BRWN online in May, then on Juneteenth, she opened her storefront.
The store has every book genre, including sci-fi, nonfiction, romance and children’s books. The books on display change regularly, like installments at an art gallery.
Each book also has a QR code that when scanned with your phone, tells you more about the book and the author.
Monthly Book Clubs
The store will also host monthly book club meetings, which Smith started organizing at the onset of the pandemic to keep in touch with friends.
This month’s book club meeting is the first in-person meeting about the novel “Sula” by Toni Morrison. Smith said you don’t have to finish the books to attend.
“I do ask questions that are somewhat specific to the reading, but it’s bigger than that for me. There are more questions about the theme of “Sula,” which is friendship,” Smith said. She said it’s open to anyone who is interested in the conversation.
The list of upcoming meetings and books are on the BLK + BRWN website: https://www.blkbrwn.com/bookclub.
The BLK + BRWN bookstore will also host a new youth mentoring program that Smith is starting in memory of her older brother who died in a 2019 motorcycle accident.
The program, called Cody’s Homies, is similar to Big Brothers Big Sisters and will connect local adult creatives with youth. Smith plans to kick the program off this fall. .
“It’s meant to just connect Black and Brown kids, AKA “little homies” to “big homies,” Smith said.
She said she wanted youth in the area to be exposed to local creatives and artists and know they could also grow up to have similar careers.
“You don’t always have to be the doctor, lawyer or teacher. You could be a chef or an influencer if that’s really what you want to do, but we need to expose them to it,” Smith said.
The Cody’s Homies program will also have workshops to prepare students for ACTs and student loans.
“There are a lot of us who do amazing things around the city and we don’t think it’s that amazing because it’s our everyday life,” Smith said. “We need people to just champion us and I’m hoping that’s what these little homies do for the big homies.”
“Yes, we’re pouring into the kids, but the kids are also pouring into us and that’s what we need,” she said.
Learn more about Cody’s Homies on the BLK + BRWN website: https://www.blkbrwn.com/codyshomies.