One of the country’s oldest and most respected African-American bookstores, 27-year-old Eso Won Books, is about to change locations, again, in August. But unlike more recent relocations, made specifically to save money on rent, its upcoming move is at the invitation of MacArthur genius grant recipient Mark Bradford.
Eso Won moved to the Leimert Park section of Los Angeles, a center for African-American art and culture, in 2006. Now Bradford, an artist, wants to make the bookstore an integral part of a group of storefronts across the street from its current location that are connected with Art+Practice, a nonprofit foundation that he cofounded to support the community.
After offering to build a bookstore for Eso Won in the new complex, Bradford returned a few days later to find out how much owners James Fugate and Tom Hamilton currently pay for rent. Bradford promised that the new space, which has a slightly larger retail footprint than the store’s current 1,200 sq. ft., will cost the same, or less.
Although Fugate hasn’t seen the lease yet, he’s not worried. “I know Mark. It won’t be something we’re unhappy with,” he told PW. “The first few weeks [after the conversation] I was having trouble sleeping, thinking this can’t be true. While I’ve heard of other people doing things this altruistic, it just doesn’t happen to our store.” Now that the physical layout of the bookstore is completed, and the carpenter is building the shelving, Fugate said of the new space, “It’s just going to be very exciting.”
The bookstore will also have first priority in programming an upstairs events space, which seats 100. Despite access to the large capacity hall, Fugate said he will continue to hold smaller events in the store. Intimate, readings, he noted, have their place; he recalled one particularly memorable event in 1995, which drew only nine people, for a then unknown activist named Barack Obama who did a reading from his book, Dreams of My Father. A subsequent event for The Audacity of Hope drew more than 900.
In the new space Eso Won will continue to carry a core selection of African-American titles along with general titles that Fugate described as “good books that people want to read,” like Jo Nesbo’s mysteries and Donna Tart’s The Goldfinch. The store will also continue to stock a strong selection of children’s titles and remainders. Fugate plans to expand the store’s art book section, which Bradford has offered to help with, and to adjust the store’s magazine selection.
Several businesses have opened in advance of Eso Won’s move. The A+P gallery opened in February, and the RightWay Foundation, which helps foster children, moved its headquarters there last summer. The Papillion art gallery, next to A+P, opened in winter 2014. A nearby subway station, which is slated to open in four years, should bring additional foot traffic to the neighborhood and the bookstore.