Last year, I visited Ida’s Bookshop for the first time. The independent bookstore is located near my home in Collingswood, NJ, and was recommended to me by a family member who started shopping there in 2020 (the same year it opened — not exactly an easy time to launch a new business). Stepping into Ida’s, I immediately noticed a range of books by both celebrated and lesser-known Black authors, from Toni Morrison to Octavia E. Butler, plus chairs set off to the side so shoppers can sit and read. The curated book selection and welcoming atmosphere made the shop feel more like a home than a retail store.
Considering that only an estimated 6 percent of US independent bookstores are Black-owned, supporting this local gem year-round is important to me — but since February is Black History Month, I’ll sing its praises now. Here’s the story behind this bookstore and why I cherish it.
The History of Ida’s Bookshop
Ida’s is special to me because it’s more than just a bookstore — it’s keeping history alive. The shop’s name pays homage to Ida B. Wells-Barnett (1862-1931), a Black journalist and activist who advocated for civil rights and women’s right to vote. Although Wells faced endless racism and sexism in her lifetime, her spirit finds a quiet place to rest in this bookstore, a space celebrating female activists, artists, and authors through literature. Ida’s is a sister bookstore to Harriet’s Bookshop in Philadelphia, named for African-American abolitionist Harriet Tubman (1820’s-1913).
Jeannine Cook, owner of both Ida’s and Harriet’s, says that honoring these two heroines is part of her role as a storyteller and community historian. “It’s important for folks to understand that there are people who have already laid the foundation for what we seek to do with our society, but if we’re not connecting the dots through stories, we’ll keep feeling like we have to start from scratch,” she explains to OprahDaily.com. Cook’s work within Ida’s and Harriet’s carries on the centuries-long tradition of Black-owned bookstores preserving the community’s heritage and history.
In 1834, abolitionist and writer, David Ruggles (1810-1849) opened the first documented Black-owned bookstore in American history. Ruggles’ bookstore carried anti-slavery publications — until a mob burned it down in 1835. His vision, however, persevered, and in the following century, Black-owned bookstores became information hubs and gathering places for the Black Power movement, mirroring the way churches and barbershops function as community spaces for Black people to this day.
For me, spending time at Ida’s and reading books from trailblazing authors is a necessity — a respite from a world where the news is loud and opinions even louder. As a Black woman and a writer, Ida’s gives me the opportunity to appreciate those that came before me. It’s also wonderful interacting with the staff — they really care about making Ida’s a memorable experience for everyone.
My Favorite Reads From Ida’s
For the in-store experience, visit Ida’s at 734 Haddon Avenue, Collingswood, NJ 08108. Alternatively, you can shop their book selection online through Bookshop.org. Here are five of my favorite reads from Ida’s:
- The Memphis Diary of Ida B. Wells by Ida B. Wells (Buy from Bookshop.org, $25.20): A book depicting Wells’ life as a young woman with vivid hopes and aspirations, before eventually becoming a well-recognized civil rights activist and anti-lynching campaigner.
- I Love Myself When I Am Laughing by Zora Neale Hurston (Buy from Bookshop.org, $18.55): An anthology of Harlem Renaissance author Zora Neale Hurston’s work, featuring 14 examples of her prolific writing including journalism, fiction, folklore, and autobiography.
- Wild Women and the Blues by Denny S. Bryce (Buy from Bookshop.org, $14.83): A novel in which the Chicago-based stories of a film student in 2015 and a chorus girl in 1925 intertwine — despite taking place almost 100 years apart — as they both grapple with forgiveness, loss, and love.
- The Source of Self-Regard by Toni Morrison (Buy from Bookshop.org, $15.76): A collection from celebrated novelist and Pulitzer Prize winner Morrison, featuring her most impactful essays and speeches spanning over 40 years.
- Crossing the Line by Kareem Rosser (Buy from Bookshop.org, $16.73): An inspiring memoir detailing the journey of athlete Kareem Rosser, who disocvered his passion for polo and eventually lead the first all-Black team to win the Interscholastic Polo Championship.
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