The owners of Greenlight Bookstore issued an open letter to customers on Wednesday, offering an unreserved apology for creating an, “unwelcoming environment for Black customers and employees who have been disregarded and disrespected.” Co-owners Rebecca Fitting and Jessica Stockton-Bagnulo acknowledged issues of bias that had been raised with them and outlined concrete steps to change policies that had contributed to the types of instances that had occurred.
“As our company has grown and our policies and procedures have developed, we have not been intentional in creating systems that actively oppose anti-Blackness, bias, profiling, and other forms of racism,” they wrote. “We take responsibility for what happens in our stores—both on and off our sales floors—and we are committed to doing the work to improve how we treat our employees and customers.”
Greenlight’s flagship Fort Greene location opened in 2009 and was followed by a second location in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, which opened six years later. There are also two kiosk locations at Brooklyn Academy of Music facilities. Within the bookselling community, Greenlight has been recognized as a leader both for creative business decisions and professionalization; including pioneering a community-based funding model and becoming one of the few stores in the United States with a formal employee handbook and HR policies.
But when it comes to anti-racism with staff and neighbors, the owners wrote that careful decision-making had broken down. “It's not enough for us to passively say Black Lives Matter if we aren't also taking steps to ensure that we're fostering an intentionally anti-racist environment in our stores, both for our staff and for our customers,” Fitting told PW Thursday. “So with that, we are doing an internal audit and making changes, with our e-mail from the other day being the first step.”
Immediate steps that were outlined in the e-mail include revisions to the store’s policy manual and employee handbook along with mandatory anti-bias training for all employees and owners and a transparent process for employees to file grievances.
Both store locations are in historically Black neighborhoods that have been aggressively gentrified in recent years, something which the owners also acknowledged. Among the steps Fitting and Stockton-Bagnulo outlined are efforts to recognize Greenlight’s role in that gentrification, and to acknowledge its effects going forward.
While bookstores have largely been supportive of protests against racism in recent months, there are long-simmering issues within the trade involving gentrification and diversity that are just now beginning to be addressed with substantive action. In the short term, the American Booksellers Association is offering a workshop at next week’s digital Children’s Institute on how white booksellers can be better allies. Larger structural changes are happening, too. Just hours after Greenlight’s e-mail, the ABA announced a membership vote on the expansion of the organization’s board in order to immediately diversify leadership.