When she was a child, Dionne Sims couldn’t stop reading.
“I used to go to the library and check out 12 books at a time, and my mom used to be like, ‘How many times can I bring you to the library?’ ” Sims recalled.
She devoured books through middle and high school. But like many voracious readers, Sims’ love for reading tapered off in college.
“When I got into college, the text that we were reading was so overwhelmingly dry and white. It felt like I never saw myself reflected in anything,” Sims said. “That kind of took the passion out of it for me, where I felt very disconnected from literature. So, I didn’t do a lot of reading for fun while I was in college.”
Since graduating from the University of Minnesota and beginning a career in user experience design, Sims, 27, has returned to her old reading habits. Reading Tomi Adeyemi’s “Children of Blood and Bone,” made her remember how much she loved getting lost in a book.
A dream of opening a bookstore returned to her after George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police on May 25.
During the weeks of racial reckoning that followed, many people looked for ways to learn about anti-racism.
Similarly, Sims was looking for ways to support Black people, and decided to look for books.
“I just ended up looking to see if there were any Black-owned bookstores. My intention, of course, wasn’t to open one at the time. I was just kind of wondering where they were at, where the closest one is. I discovered that there was none in Minnesota, and that was when I made the tweet.”
In Sims’ viral tweet on June 15 she wrote that there are no Black-owned bookstores in the state, and that opening one had long been a dream.
“It just absolutely took off, and I wasn’t expecting it. But at the same time, it’s such an amazing community of people around to me and it just felt really great to be supported in that way,” Sims said.
Her store, called Black Garnet Books, will mostly stock books by Black and other diverse authors.
The books will primarily be adult and young adult, as St. Paul bookmobile Babycake’s Book Stack already focuses on diverse children’s books.
Crowdfunding for the store launched Friday and has raised more than $81,000. Sims says she hopes that online sales will follow shortly afterward on Bookshop.org, an online store that intentionally supports local bookstores.
The possibility of pop-up sales as well as a permanent physical space will depend on the success of the crowdfunding, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, Sims said.
“I’m trying to be really intentional about the timeline for this because with all the excitement it’s very easy to just rush everything, and my plan for this bookstore is really to make sure that it’s sustainable and that it can stay in the Twin Cities longer than previous Black-owned bookstores,” Sims said.
Sims briefly had a partner in Black Garnet Books, Muna Abdulahi, who is no longer involved in the endeavor. She wished Abdulahi well in a post on the store’s website on July 8.
Carrie Obry, executive director of the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association, based in Minneapolis, was in her role when the last Black-owned bookstore in Minnesota, Ancestry Books, came and went, closing in 2015.
Obry said the New York Times bestseller list, which has been filled with books by Black authors in recent weeks, bodes well for Sims’ store.
“With the whole country and the whole world focusing on these issues, it’s amazing. I think there really is a hunger and an eagerness to support Black-owned businesses and bookstores specifically because books are so important for opening people’s minds and getting the right information out there,” Obry said.
Black-owned bookstores continue to energize the independent bookstore landscape, which is going through a renaissance of its own with recent developments like Bookshop.org, said Obry.
“I think that a Black-owned bookstore, especially here in the Twin Cities, after the uprising and the protests, having this bookstore on the horizon, I think that’s a really powerful statement,” Obry said.