Sankofa Video and Books has been a fixture in Washington D.C. for over two decades, but according to its owners, gentrification is threatening the bookstore’s survival. Specializing in works by Africans and people of African descent, Sankofa is facing a $30,000 tax assessment as a result of recent property value increases. If forced to pay the tax, the store’s future will be in jeopardy, wrote co-founder Shirikiana Gerima in an e-mail to PW.
Gerima has appealed to city councilmember Brianna Nadeau who is sponsoring a resolution to exempt the bookstore from the tax payments for 10 years. “Nadeau understands the importance of Sankofa not only as a bookstore but as a cultural institution that provides artists, filmmakers, and authors with the space and platform to present, deliberate, and showcase their work to eager audiences,” wrote Gerima. A hearing on the resolution is set for June 3.
The threat of gentrification is an increasingly significant issue for booksellers in the nation’s capital and elsewhere. While some stores have thrived due to the rising income of newly-arrived patrons, others have found it difficult to cover overhead and other basic expenses. Black-owned businesses, Gerima wrote, have been particularly hard-hit citywide.
She plans to bring community members to the June 3 hearing to plead the bookstore’s case for abatement. “Sankofa is one of the very few cultural establishments left in the area,” she wrote, adding that the community is, “adamant about keeping this resource open and thriving.”