Largest Black Bookstore Chain Shuts Down
When James Williams logged on to www.karibubooks.com to search for a book title that would aid his 12-year-old daughter with a black history project, he also expected to see news of upcoming book signings that he and his daughter could attend. Instead, Williams was greeted with a letter from the company’s CEO, Simba Sana, announcing the company’s closing. “After 15 years of service within the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, Karibu Books, a black bookstore chain, will be closing its doors,” Sana said in the letter.
“We sincerely thank each and everyone one of you for your patronage and support. We are optimistic that our mission to empower and educate through a comprehensive selection of books by and about people of African descent will continue to resonate within the communities we proudly served.”
The news of the store closings has left many people disheartened. District resident Janelle Thompson has always turned to Karibu. For Thompson, it was not just a bookstore; it was a part of her culture, her history.
What started off as a kiosk in a local mall specializing in African-American books quickly turned into a major company with six stores, more than 40 employees, and both in store and community events. It was also a home for African-American authors who were not given a chance by mainstream stores. Karibu, the nation’s largest black bookstore chain, became the place of choice for many African Americans in search of books for them and by them. “It hurts me that the wealth of books that Karibu carried I can no longer get,” Thompson said. “You just can’t find many of these books at a Borders or Barnes & Noble, and it really saddens me that we have lost this resource.”
With 50 percent markdowns on all merchandise including furniture and fixtures, the Karibu location at the Mall at Prince George’s in Hyattsville, Md., initially had a small number of people one day recently, but as word spread the aisles of the store were filled with customers stocking up on books, including black history titles, Civil Rights readers, popular fiction tales and children’s books.
“It’s as if we take one step forward and two steps backward every time,” said Maryland resident Aisha Daniels. “Where do I go now to see our authors and our books?” Karibu employees said that the chain is shutting down operations because of an alleged parting of ways between founders Simba Sana and Yao Glover, which contributed to financial disarray.
Many black publishers and authors feel that the closing will truly hurt the industry and affect the entire community. Karibu is the place where many authors, such as the best-selling writer Zane, got their start.
Karibu, pronounced “Ka-REE-boo,” which means “welcome” in Swahili, has done so for the last time at three of its locations. The Pentagon City location closed after Christmas, and the stores at Security Square Mall in Baltimore and the Centre at Forestville in Forestville, Md., closed on Sunday. The final three locations at the Mall at Prince George’s, Bowie Town Center in Bowie, Md., and Iverson Mall in Hillcrest Heights, Md., will close on Feb. 10.