Sadly this bookstore closed back in 2009. This post is being left up for archival purposes.
**My latest contribution to the Bham Terminal has been posted. So you can catch me over there or keep reading below.**
The newest kid on Birmingham’s book selling block is Malcolm’s Reading Room (404 17th St. North) which is the ground level of the historic Masonic Temple building. Malcolm’s Reading Room is billed as an African-American bookstore, which the banners, t-shirts and colors make obvious after stepping through the door. But after spending a few short minutes with co-owner Simone Snelling, one gets the feeling that the store is about something more…
A passion for all things revolutionary and thought provoking.
“We’re going to focus on books about African Americans and by African Americans, ” said Snelling. “But we’re also going to offer books on the women’s rights, the Middle East, Che Guevara, music by independent musicians and art by local independent artists. Really, we’re looking for revolutionary things.”
Snelling says she and her husband, co-owner Courtney Snelling, always had the dream of opening a bookstore when they finally got their big break about a year ago.
“My husband was visiting Chicago, which is where he’s from,” said Snelling. “He ran across a going-out-of-business sale at a bookstore and that’s where our first big section of books came from.” She said that first haul netted the couple nearly 500 books and they haven’t looked back since.
Snelling, a Tuskegee graduate, said she and her husband have used the year since that big buy to study and learn all they could about the book trade.
“We attended the Southeastern Booksellers Association meeting,” said Snelling. “We went to all the workshops we could and read all the books we could about running a bookstore. The biggest thing was finding a location. We found this spot, right in the middle of all this Civil Rights history. We named our store after our son, because we figured the best way to teach him about his own history is by putting him right here in the middle of it all.”
For now, the stories surrounding the African-American community will keep the shelves full at the shop. Something that Snelling says is desperately needed.
“There aren’t a lot of African-American bookstores and this (Birmingham) is the center of it all,” she said. “We have all of these prominent African-American scholars around here and there aren’t any bookstores to support their work.”
Snelling said, in her experience, trying to get African-American books through one of the big-box retail bookstores, has always been a big hassle filled with long delivery times and other problems. It’s experiences like that which have kept her motivated motivate her to opening and organizing her own shop.
“We don’t have any real sections yet,” she said. “I guess that will have to come as we get more and more in. But for now we like for people to come in and browse through the shelves and maybe find something they like. We are already in need of more shelves, we have boxed of books in the back, but we’ll also need space for music, art by local artists and people!”
It’s that last part that catches your attention as Snelling goes on to tell of her vision for Malcolm’s Reading Room.
“We want to have people here always,” she said. “Sitting right here in the middle, sharing ideas and talking with people that they might not have ever met somewhere else. That’s always a good thing.”
Malcolm’s Reading Room, located at 404 17th Street North, is open Monday through Saturday 10am-7pm. Their website MalcolmsReadingRoom.com is a work in progress, but should be up soon.