Community Says ‘Kwaheri’ (Farewell) to Karibu

Largest Black Book Store Chain in U.S. to Close by Feb. 10

The African-American community has been in mourning for the past week over the loss of the largest black book chain in the country, Karibu Books.

In a letter posted on the Karibu Web site, CEO Simba Sana informed customers that after 15 years of service the bookstores would be closing their doors in the coming weeks.

In the solemn letter to Karibu customers, Sana expressed his gratitude for the support and patronage from the community.

“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,” Sana went on to say.

Karibu, pronounced Ka-REE-boo, means “welcome” in Swahili.

Karibu Books began as a street vender in 1993 and over the past 15 years grew from a kiosk in The Mall at Prince George’s to six stores in the Washington-Baltimore area that hosted in-store and community events.

The Karibu camp hasn’t been extremely vocal about why it decided to close shop, but Sana has cited financial difficulties as well as unresolved conflicts with co-founder Yao Glover in interviews with several local newspapers.

The store in Pentagon City Mall, which competes with a neighboring Borders, was the first to close after the Christmas season.

The stores at Security Square Mall in Baltimore and the Centre at Forestville in Forestville, Md., closed on Sunday.

The Iverson Mall and Prince George’s Mall locations were scheduled to close on Feb. 10, but with customers taking advantage of drastically marked down inventory, both stores closed more than a week early.

Karibu in Bowie will be the last store to shut its doors.

Though the stores are closing, the Karibu Books Web site will still be active for customers to purchase books online.

James Fugate, co-owner of Eso Won Books in Los Angeles, another independently owned black book store was quoted in a December 2007 Publishers Weekly article on the competition with the Internet and book superstores.

“Books are selling, but nationwide, many African American stores, ours included, are having hard times,” Fugate said. “We are seeing the crunch of the Internet and mainstream stores like Borders and Barnes & Noble.”

Amazon’s sales were up 34 percent in 2007 from the previous year, according to a statement by the Internet retailer.

Customers spoke in hushed tones as they browsed through the few titles left on the nearly bare shelves at the Iverson Mall Karibu.

Books were tossed around and out of alphabetical order as people picked through them, purchasing classics by such authors as James Baldwin and Alice Walker for as little as $10.

“I hate to see the black business go down, but if we don’t support them, they’re going to go down,” said Leah Adams, a first-time customer of Karibu Books.

Leyonta Sears has been a customer of Karibu since it was a kiosk back in the ’90s and often came to book signings of established and upcoming authors.

“Being that Karibu Books has been the starting ground for many upcoming African-American authors, how will they get exposure now?” Sears asked.Karibu Books was known throughout the black literary community as a stepping stone for many new authors.

Lori Nelson, author and president of Nelson Publishing LLC, was looking forward to using Karibu as an outlet for her newly published children’s book.

“African Americans have limited outlets to showcase our literary talents,” Nelson said. “When you remove one from the list, we feel it … especially emerging authors who are trying to make a name for ourselves.”

The Bowie store was a similar scene, with bare walls and sullen customers.

Like the Pentagon store, the Karibu at Bowie Town Center has competition from major book superstores such as Barnes & Noble’s and Borders.

Colorful signs screaming “GOING OUT OF BUSINESS, 50% OFF SALE” adorned the windows drawing in customers.

Those who purchased at least 20 books received an additional 10 percent off, prompting customers to make large purchases.

In his letter, Simba Sana informed customers that even the fixtures of some of the stores would be for sale on the closing day, Feb. 10.

Both Pentagon City Mall and The Mall at Prince George’s have not released any information as to what stores will be leasing the spots once occupied by Karibu Books.

Additional reporting by Kamirria Harris and Courtney Gwynn.