Black Pearl Books, only Black-owned independent bookstore in Austin, provides community, stresses small business support

Aaron Boehmer, Senior Life and Arts Reporter

Set inside a small shop with black-and-white siding and a bright red door, customers arrive at Black Pearl Books for more than just a good read as co-owners Katrina and Eric Brooks work to foster a gathering place for community and conversation.

“Folks come in (who are) regular customers (and) talk about life, a new book they’ve read, the current political climate, (all) based upon the curation of our store, (which) has been focused on diversity, inclusion and representation,” Eric said.

Katrina founded the bookstore in 2019 as a pop-up shop and online store. Eric joined in later, and the husband-and-wife duo now co-own and operate a permanent brick-and-mortar on Burnet Road as the only Black-owned independent bookstore in Austin, according to a list maintained by the African American Literature Book Club.

Eric said Black Pearl Books feels a large responsibility being the only Black-owned independent bookstore in Austin, working to provide all Austinites, including the UT community, with books and education focused on three pillars: diversity, inclusion and representation.

“We strive to be a lot to a lot of people,” Eric said. “(However,) just like any other subset of the population, Black folks in Austin are not a monolith. How do you really appeal to all of those folks? We are not solely focused on titles for Black folks here in Austin, (but) also serve neighborhoods, communities and people that want to support independent bookstores.”

From titles focused on different religions and faiths, to bilingual books, to books specific to African American, Asian and Pacific Islander, Latinx and Indigenous experiences, Black Pearl Books offers a curated selection, taking into account the intersections of people’s identities.

“We’re all a mixture of intersectionalities,” Eric said. “We try to have books that exemplify that. We want folks to feel comfortable coming in and seeing those stories and seeing themselves represented on the shelf.”

For business freshman Sarah Gelfer, Black Pearls Books gave her the resources to explore Bbell Hhooks and other Black authors, which she said bookstores not dedicated to diversity, inclusion and representation often fail to highlight.

“In a big bookstore, they will have a small display (for something like Black History Month),” Gelfer said. “A bookstore dedicated to diversity and inclusion allows for a bigger space for authors to put out works for more people to get exposure to different types of topics, (like) Black feminism (or) the prison industrial complex.”   

Along with hosting book clubs and events, Black Pearl Books creates book bundles available to UT students at discounted rates. Dr. Leonard Moore, the George Littlefield Professor of American History, collaborated with Black Pearl Books to create a discounted bundle focused on the history of Jim Crow for the “Black Southerners in the Age of Jim Crow” course. 

“Austin needed a Black bookstore, and I’m glad they’re filling the void,” Moore said. “Whenever you can support a local business, you always want to do it. It’s easy to get on Amazon (or) go to Barnes & Noble; (however,) there’s nothing better than going to a bookstore and just browsing. There’s nothing better than having a locally-owned bookstore.” 

Barnes & Noble operates around 600 retail locations across all 50 states, according to the company. There are only 144 Black-owned independent bookstores in the U.S. and nine in Texas, according to the AALBC’s list, highlighting a national and statewide disparity in regard to Black-owned bookstores. 

Eric said that, along with voting, he believes being purposeful with where money is going is one of the most straightforward ways to impact the country and help marginalized communities.

“I’m not sure that we all are conscious of the amount of power that resides in our wallet,” Eric said. “If people are intentional about where they spend their money, they are able to help build their communities, as opposed to spending money with nameless, faceless corporations. If people understand that importance, it will further the longevity of independently-owned bookstores.”