A week after the news circulated that Eso Won bookstore, Los Angeles’ premier bookseller specializing in African American authors, was facing bankruptcy and contemplating closure at the end of the year, the community churches (led by the powerful First African Methodist Episcopal) took action by telling their congregations to buy books at the store or risk losing a community treasure.
“That’s a relief and sales have been up over the last four or five days,” said Tom Hamilton, who opened Eso Won 20 years ago with James Fugate. But even with the efforts of the community, Hamilton told PW the store might still have to close.
“We’re going to reevaluate things at the end of February,” said Hamilton. He explained that for the past few years sales have fallen off sharply between African American History month (February) and October. “We just can’t handle that again.”
Eso Won is known for hosting big events with authors that have included Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Walter Mosely, Christopher Darden and Patti Labelle. But even if the events drew a crowd, Fugate said the crowd didn’t always buy enough books.
Fugate attributed the store’s declining sales in recent years to the discounts from chain stores and Amazon that a stand alone bookseller can’t offer, along with a drop in purchase orders from institutions like the Los Angeles Unified School district.
As Eso Won contemplated its future, Fugate sent an e-mail to customers that read: “Supporting us keeps books in the community.” Having pastors preach about the value of Eso Won and the need for their congregations to buy books there in support may make the store’s owners happy, but will only keep doors open if the momentum of last week’s increased sales continues.
In the meantime, Fugate and Hamilton have enlisted the advice of Clark Kepler, whose Kepler’s Books and Magazines was saved by its Silicon Valley community two years ago this month.