The Case for Black With a Capital B



Rosalyn Elder, On Bookstores in the Age of the Internet


A Conversation with Rosalyn Elder
By Talia Whyte

Jamaicaway Books and Gifts is New England’s only bookstore that provides a selection of multicultural literature, educational resources, art and cultural artifacts from around the world. Last year the store celebrated its tenth year in business. Jamaicaway Books is best known for its book readings and Sunday afternoon jazz sessions. Some of the many famous authors who have done book readings at the store include Walter Mosley, Sindiwe Magona, Tim Reid, Wesley Brown and Sister Souljah. The store also supports local authors through extensive readings and signings. Activist Mel King read from his latest book of poetry, Streets, during the store’s National Poetry Month celebrations last April.

Due to the rise in Internet booksellers like Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble, many independent bookstores nationwide are either closing or having to reinvent their identities and added on services like cafes and art galleries. Other stores have organized community fundraisers to help keep up with the financial demands of running a small business in this economic downturn.

According to the Census Bureau, sales at bookstores decreased by 2.5 percent in April 2009 as compared to April 2008. April 2009 bookstore sales are estimated at $969 million, compared to sales of $994 million for the same period last year. Recently the American Booksellers Association has launched many initiatives to help member bookstores stay afloat financially, such as helping bookstore owners apply for federal loans.

Rosalyn Elder, Jamaicaway Books co-owner, said she is considering all options to keep the store alive, including expanding its children’s section and looking into the viability of opening a café that sells Memphis barbecue on the weekends.

“We are very hopeful about the store, and we have to just keep moving forward,” Elder said.