The only Black-owned bookstore in Minnesota will open a brick-and-mortar location next year in St. Paul’s Midway neighborhood, with the help of a $100,000 grant from the city.
Black Garnet Books received a Neighborhood STAR grant to renovate its new location and is scheduled to open next summer.
Dionne Sims shared her dream of opening the first Black-owned bookstore in Minnesota on Twitter after searching for the nearest one in June 2020 and discovering that there weren’t any brick-and-mortar options across the state.
Support for Sims’ crowdfunding effort quickly followed. The money raised helped with startup costs and inventory, but hard costs like construction of the space exceeded that, Sims said in an interview.
When Council Member Mitra Jalali, who represents the Hamline-Midway area, approached Sims with information about the STAR grant, it seemed like a perfect fit. The Neighborhood STAR program, which the city’s half-cent sales tax funds, provides loans and grants for capital improvement projects.
Sims said her priority for the storefront was accessibility. The space at Hamline Station offers access to public transit including buses, the Green Line light rail and plenty of parking. She also wanted the bookstore to be in a diverse neighborhood.
“I looked at or had been presented with locations in more upper-class white neighborhoods, and I was just like, no, that’s not the vibe that I want,” Sims said. “That’s not who I’m doing this for, and so I really wanted to focus on somewhere like where I would live.”
The location will be also be close to home.
“I’m from Minneapolis, but having moved to St. Paul a few years ago, I’ve kind of just fallen in love with it, the Midway neighborhood, especially. It’s really diverse; the businesses here are really cool, too,” Sims said. “I was like, OK, if I could have my business where I live and integrate myself into the community, I think that’d be amazing.”
Black Garnet Books will be located right next to Midway hotspots Master Noodle and Ding Tea — already “total hits of the city,” Jalali said.
“The Hamline Station is a great building with great residents and neighbors,” she said. “I think it’s sort of become a beautiful little block all on its own.”
Continuing to add neighborhood vibrancy to the Midway corridor is one of Jalali’s priorities — in addition to filling a need for a source of diverse books for a diverse community.
“To me, it’s not just a retail opportunity — it’s so much bigger than that,” Jalali said. “It’s about community, and I know that that’s at the heart of what Dionne is trying to do.”